War for the Planet of the Apes FILM REVIEW
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
Director: Matt Reeves
Screenplay: Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer, Terry Notary
Rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity
Running Time: 2 hours 22 minutes
****1/2 out of *****
Photo: 20th Century Fox
Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads the apes in a battle against a malevolent colonel (Woody Harrelson) in WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES.
How many cinematic trilogies can you think of where each subsequent chapter was actually better than the previous one? There aren't that many are there. THE LORD OF THE RINGS. The first three TOY STORY films. Sergio Leone's DOLLARS TRILOGY. Richard Linklater's BEFORE TRILOGY. What? No BACK TO THE FUTURE? Where's STAR WARS? Where's MAD MAX? Come on, THE MIGHTY DUCKS? Like I said, not many trilogies feature films that get progressively better from the first film to the last. With the arrival of Matt Reeves' WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, the PLANET OF THE APES prequel trilogy (RISE (2011) / DAWN (2014) / WAR (2017)) can take its rightful place among the best cinematic trilogies ever made. The concluding chapter is a tour de force of visual effects which features a powerful and engrossing story about the morality of war, the high price of freedom at all costs and the all-too-human thirst for vengeance.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES took me by surprise on both technical and artistic levels. I was stunned by the photo-realistic apes in DAWN. When I first saw Maurice, the gentle orangutan, he looked to me like a primate who was taught sign language. After all, Koko the gorilla knows sign language so it is far from being mere science fiction. While the phrase "the uncanny valley" typically applies to human beings these CGI apes were certainly taking steps in that direction. With the new film, they have pretty much taken a leap into the valley as these characters are so photo-realistic, so life-like, so decidedly human that you forget you are watching a visual effect. It's as though you are either watching the best practical make up effects ever created or real animals trained in sign language and human behavior. Even though you know they are fake, the characters are so well rounded and engaging you fully buy into their existence.
For a film that is predominantly about non-existent characters, Reeves and Mark Bomback have crafted a story about war that is far more potent and engaging than James Cameron's AVATAR. This film over flows with pathos, tragedy, irony, drama and in some cases much needed levity. The film covers all the emotions one might expect from a war where the end result will be the utter annihilation of a species. There is much heartbreak to be found here and not just on the side of the apes either. Watching the growth of Caesar has been a truly engrossing and ultimately rewarding aspect of this trilogy. By this film his level of intelligence has reached its zenith and he exhibits a level of humanity that seems to have been lost by actual humans. The obvious parallels regarding the treatment of these apes during wartime never seems heavy-handed. Human nature at its worst is on display and ethics go out the door when survival is everyone's paramount purpose. This is a unflinching look at war that just happens to involve computer generated characters.
The performance capture in this film is second to none. The actors' performances seep through all those one and zeroes and really make you believe you are watching the real thing. The old adage "the eyes are a window into one's soul" holds true here as you can see so much in the eyes of these creations. There are countless moments where Andy Serkis' pain, anger and sorrow is so palpable and much of it is due to the emotion found within his eyes. In fact, this is true for all the performances. One of the most significant additions to this cast of characters is Steve Zahn's Bad Ape. He is at once funny, sympathetic, endearing and compassionate. Bad Ape is definitely one of the highlights of this film. Not to be outdone is the human side led by Woody Harrelson. One of the biggest issues I had with DAWN was the lack of a solid villain. Harrelson's Colonel more than makes up for it and than some. He's a villain you truly love to hate but his rationale for his actions lie in that grey area between right and wrong that the morality of it all is up for debate. After all it is war and the survival of the species is at stake. Harrelson is excellent in the role and despite the fact that he's unlikable he still manages to garner some sympathy. The film also features Amiah Miller who plays a young mute girl that Caesar and company find while tracking the Colonel and his men. Her interaction with the apes give the characters even more credibility and you never get the sense that she doesn't believe that these guys and gals in suits are actually apes.
Matt Reeves' WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES works on so many levels. It's an excellent war film. It's a thought-provoking and engrossing drama. It's a transcendence of science fiction. It's a benchmark in visual effects and storytelling. A movie fan can only hope that a trilogy, especially a good one, can end on a high note. Many have missed the mark like THE GODFATHER or MAD MAX where the concluding chapter was good but simply wasn't in the same league as its predecessors. The APES prequel trilogy concludes with the best entry in the series which cements its status in the annals of cinematic history as one of the best motion picture trilogies ever made. Apes. Together. Strong. Indeed.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal