Matt Reeves returns to direct War for the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to his hit entry into the Apes franchise Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It has been two years since the events of Dawn, and Caesar (Serkis) and his Apes have been hiding from soldiers who are hunting them after Koba’s attack on San Francisco. Lead by a ruthless Colonel (Harrelson), a group of special forces soldiers attack the apes at their home forcing them to relocate, Caesar must choose between what is right for his kind and what is right for himself. War for the Planet of the Apes stars Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller and Terry Notary.
The title notwithstanding, War for the Planet of the Apes is not an action packed movie as much as it is an emotional conclusion to a journey the audience has followed Caesar on for three movies. We see how much of a toll being the leader of the tribe has taken on Caesar, from freeing the Apes in Rise to protecting them in Dawn and now being torn between helping his tribe find a new home and seeking revenge against the humans who wronged him. To complicate matters more for Caesar, the ghost of Koba, the ape who started all the violence in Dawn, is also burdening him, and making him question himself as a leader and as an ape. Despite being the third film of the franchise, War does feel like it could be a stand-alone movie. Matt Reeves expertly constructs a narrative that fits into the world of the previous two but feels like a different type of movie. Caesar is a different character than he previously was, where he has become almost like a prophet for his kind. It would still be recommended that the first two movies be seen, one because they are good films but two because of how emotionally involved in Caesars’ journey we have become throughout the trilogy.
When you watch this Planet of the Apes trilogy you see the advancements in the digital technology from 2011 to 2017. Re-watching Rise and Dawn the improvements were massive but it still looked like it was CGI, this was not the case with War. There are moments in War for the Planet of the Apes that I thought they had real apes on set, in particular Maurice the Orangutan, who looked incredibly life like. There were several times throughout the movie that it is hard to tell if it was Computer Generated or Animatronics that brought the apes to life. Caesar looked so realistic that he could have been Andy Serkis in make up and prosthetics rather than being CGI. War for the Planet of the Apes has advanced the use of this technology ten fold.
Full praise must go to Andy Serkis and what he was able to achieve as Caesar. It is a shame that the Academy does not recognise motion capture performance for the acting categories despite the fact they should. Serkis brings so much emotion to his performance, elevating the movie in a way no one else could. He is the reason these movies are as revered as they are, the technology makes them stand out but without his performance the motion capture work would turn the Apes movies into more of a gimmick than great films. Serkis is so much more than just a man in a skin-tight suit, he becomes Caesar in the same way an actor becomes their character. Working against Caesar is The Colonel played by the incredible Woody Harrelson. What War for the Planet of the Apes did over the other movies was have a stand out villain, with the other movies using ‘bad humans’ like David Oyelowo or Tom Felton in Rise or a leader trying to help his people like Gary Oldman in Dawn. The Colonel is seen as the villain from the early moments and at no point does that perception change. He has a simple motivation, the preservation of the human race by any means necessary. Woody Harrelson is a phenomenal actor and gave an exceptional performance; with the scene where he explains to Caesar why he is the way he is being one of the best scenes in the film. He is a captivating bad guy that showed just how dark he could go. Admiration must also be given to relative newcomer Amiah Miller for her role as Nova, the young girl rescued by Caesar and Maurice. For a 13 year old she was fantastic considering she had to act against people in funny suits with dots all over, which would be hard for most actors to and she nails it.
One thing that had me worried was the use of humour around Bad Ape. Played by Steve Zahn, Bad Ape encounters Caesar and his friends as they search for the soldiers’ base, but he is different to the apes in Caesars tribe as he can speak clearer than them but does not understand their sign language. Due to the fact he has been alone for so long he does not know how to interact with the other apes, which at often times is often comical. That and his broken English make him feel like the comic relief for a movie with some dense themes. I was concerned that the humour around Bad Ape might be over played or even out of place but Matt Reeves used the humour in such a way that it always worked. Without Bad Ape War for the Planet of the Apes could have felt a lot darker and denser.
I think that these Planet of the Apes movies are extremely underrated films; with many people I have spoken too not wanting to see them. They are fantastic films that work really well as a trilogy with an incredible lead character in Caesar. I don’t believe they will be considered in the greatest trilogies of all time conversation but they are movies that are worth seeing. That being said I also could not tell you how I would rank them as they are three very different feeling movies but War is an incredibly emotional movie and a perfect way to conclude this story.
I think more people should see the Apes movies. You should first watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes first then go and the see War for the Planet of the Apes.
War for the Planet of the Apes scores 8/10
Thanks for reading my review. Have you seen War? What did you think? Let me know in the comments section below.
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