Friday, July 14, 2017


Matt Reeves’ WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is the third and (likely) final chapter in a three-film arc which began in 2011; it is a capper to a trilogy, one that has progressed in its storytelling and technical wizardry to bring its walking and talking apes to life while steadily working its way up to the events of the 1968 classic.

It is fifteen years after the events of the second film, and humanity, faced with the progressing virus which is robbing them of their speech, is in their last stand against the growing population of sentient apes. The ape leader, Caesar (reprised via motion-capture and voiced by Andy Serkis) is looking for peace and preaching mercy when he suffers a deeply personal loss by the hands of the human resistance leader, known as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Caesar sends his large tribe off to a rumored safe haven, and sets out on a journey of revenge.

For a movie with War in the title, this is a flick which has very little warring going on. There is a terrific battle in the opening sequence (a chilling throwback to the Vietnam War), and an epic battle at the end (between two different human armies, fighting for scraps), and that’s it for the fighting. In-between the dustups is Caesar’s one-ape tale of vengeance, as he sets out across the devastated and barren landscape, picking up loyal companions here and there, and struggling with his decision for blood as he knows killing The Colonel will only make things worse for his beloved apes.

A movie must always be judged on its own merits, but it has to pointed out that Reeves is showing no shame in borrowing from many film genres. Caesar’s quest for blood-revenge harks back to an Old West film, and The Colonel is straight out of APOCALYPSE NOW in every way, including being a rogue with his own army. Eventually Caesar and his tribe are captured and held in a concentration camp, which lets the film slide into a standard prison-escape story…all while being peppered with elements from the Bible here and there and a modern political commentary. Not all of these old elements are a bad thing, as the environment and clever plotting by Reeves keeps it feeling fresh, and even though the story itself is very much A to Z with very few surprises, Caesar’s personal morality tale gives it a lot of heart and has a mythical feel to it.

Reeves and his team have filmed an amazing looking movie. Every shot is perfectly framed and the cinematography is breathtaking. The CGI wizardry in bringing the apes to life is a major step forward for the tech, as the apes have never looked better or more life-like. Every strand of fur and texture can be seen, and the actors’ performances underneath their digital skins can be fully appreciated. Reeves challenges the visual effects team by putting his CGI characters in various conditions from low lighting, snow, and waterfalls, and the challenge is met with stunning results. Michael Giacchino’s score is a primal beast.

Andy Serkis as Caesar brings the motion-capture tech to a new level, and his facial expressions and true acting ability really shines through, and this talented actor truly makes us care for his character. Woody Harrelson channels his best Marlon Brando and handles it very well. Amiah Miller plays Nova, a young mute girl who charms. The rest of the motion-capture actors, including Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, and Judy Greer are all excellent.

Over the last six years, Reeves and his team of filmmakers have built a bleak world while making his audience choose sides in the ape vs. human battle, but WAR doesn’t bother much with that as it becomes clear early on that the humans have already lost, and the ones we do see are pretty darn despicable and deserve to get speared. With the destination already known the journey becomes more important, and WAR has us spend that journey with Caesar…and by the time he reaches his promised land, we are behind him 100%. Matt Reeves has put together an epic sci-fi series here, with very satisfying results and strong ties to the beloved 1968 classic that started it all. It’s a prequel series that stands tall on its own, with the final chapter as the best entry.


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