Originally published on Creator.co on July 15, 2017 as “3 Reasons Why ‘War For The Planet Of The Apes Is A Must See”
There was a wide range of emotions that I felt coming out of War For The Planet Of The Apes. I felt relief, I felt satisfied, and I felt emotional. I was genuinely happy coming out seeing Matt Reeves successfully following up his previous sequel Dawn Of The Planet Of Apes and put the finishing touches on what can now be considered one of the finest film trilogies of all time. War for the Planet of the Apes is different than you might expect (or the marketing would have you believe) and maybe isn’t the action-packed summer blockbuster you want, but it is elevated above that into a thoughtful science fiction tale led by the incredible Andy Serkis performance.
What Is It About?
War for the Planet of the Apes picks up about two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The apes and humans have been at war ever since the vengeful Koba attacked humanity. There are great causalities on both sides, and Caesar starts to become a living legend among both species. But after the actions of the Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson), Caesar sets out on a path of vengeance that threatens to consume him, as both ape and man prepare for what feels like the final battle.
It’s Action and Spectacle Serves It’s Character-Driven Story
The word War in the title levies a form of expectation (rightly or wrongly); the expectation that there will be great battle sequences and a massive war. War for the Planet of the Apes has a little bit of that, but it is largely absent of the massive war many might be expecting. But this works to the advantage of the movie. The war doesn’t just refer to the conflict that brews between humanity and the apes, but it reflects the internal war that Caesar has within himself. This film is largely character-driven following Caesar’s quest for vengeance. There are scenes of internment camps that reflect the worst parts of humanity. The war is as internal as it is external. This razor-sharp attention to characters makes the ending and final sequences all the more impactful.
That’s not to say there are no battle scenes. The movie features two battle scenes, one that felt almost reminiscent of Vietnam films like Platoon and Apocalypse Now. These scenes are sharp, hard-hitting, and dramatic. They work so well because it’s not a spectacle for spectacle sake. These scenes aren’t there to be “cool”. The spectacle works because we care about what’s happening to Caesar, Maurice, and Rocket. Everything happening around the characters, the action and drama, is amplified because of how much we care about them. This is as much of a testament to the previous two films as it is to War. It would be very easy to make a big blockbuster film where Caesar gathers a bunch of apes together and then goes and fights the Colonial with two armies clashing together in one massive battle sequence. Sure, it could be fun, but these movies seem to be more interested in its themes, characters, and story. Writer/director Matt Reeves doesn’t always take the easy route. He puts his characters through the ringer, has moral complexity and gray areas in his scripts, and Reeves never stops challenging his characters. That’s why the lack of action never bothered me, when it happened it was thrilling. When it wasn’t happening, I was locked into Caesar’s story.
Andy Serkis And The Rest of The Ape Performances
Andy Serkis returns to the role that rivals his performance as Gollum in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. That role is Caesar. There will be some clamoring for his Oscar nomination for this latest role and there should be at the very least a discussion. The amount of power Serkis commands is not just merely because of the visual effects but the performance itself. Serkis is impossible to take your eyes off. He makes the character strong but vulnerable at the same time. Serkis makes conscious choices to develop his character from the last ones through his speech and demeanor.
Side by side with him are the actors playing his ape counterparts. Karin Konoval as Maurice gives a richly touching performance as the orangutan that finds a young girl, that cannot speak, that they name Nova (played by amazingly by Amiah Miller). Terry Notary is given a lot more to do as Rocket, one of Caesar’s most trusted friends and ally. Steve Zahn comes in to play a new character named Bad Ape. Bad Ape provides a little comic relief in a film that is rifled with darkness and despair. Their performances might go a little under the radar but deserve praise all the same.
The Lifelike Special Effects by WETA
All the actor’s performances are brought to life by WETA, the visual effects studio behind The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar, Jungle Book, and Apes pictures. Here they continue to show why they are among the best visual effects companies in the world. The apes were impressive in previous movies with some startlingly real life looking CGI motion captured performances. The effects have gotten better with every movie and here it cumulates into scenes where Apes look just as good as the real-life ones (the effects on Maurice and Bad Ape particularly stand out). Many shots look almost photo realistic. It is worth the price admission alone to see these incredible and momentous feats of special effects brought out onto the big screen. The big screen is going to be the best place to see the visual effects. Watching a trailer on your computer monitor doesn’t do the effects justice.
Lucky for us, there is a good movie around those effects. They serve the story and, like the action, are not there for spectacle sake.
There isn’t much I can say on a negative front outside of the pacing getting a little too slow in the middle, but that’s a nitpick. War for the Planet of the Apes is the capper to an incredible trilogy. This concludes the story of Caesar in both quiet and spectacular fashion. Andy Serkis once again showcases his talent as an actor, WETA dazzles our eyes with unbelievable special effects, and also a special shout out to Michael Giacchino’s masterful musical score (something I have yet to mention). Writer/director Matt Reeves has once again proven he is a director to be reckoned with. This is everything a summer blockbuster should be, go see it when you get the chance.