The third and final installment in the rebooted Apes franchise – War For The Planet Of The Apes – is upon us, so let’s review it.
IMDb summary: After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
War For The Planet Of The Apes broke the trend that most blockbusters follow nowadays and was written by only 2 people instead of a bunch of them. Mark Bomback (who wrote The Wolverine, Insurgent, and the previous entry in the trilogy Dawn) and the director Matt Reeves were the only two screenwriters responsible for the script and, to my mind, that was one of the factors that lead to War’s screenplay being a major success that only had a few minor flaws.
To begin with, I loved the neat recap that played with the titles of the films (Rise, Dawn, War). I also very much enjoyed the direction that this story took with the humans devolving and losing the traits that make them human. The scene in which Woody Harelson’s character exposed that concept was a bit exposition heavy but the idea itself was so interesting that I didn’t care that much. In general, the issues of humanity were even more prevalent than in the previous films and were handled really well. Moreover, I adored the final twists in the plot, where the final battle was more about the human vs human conflict with the apes caught in the middle. Additionally, the idea to have mother nature as the winning agent was a genius one and also helped the action-y third act to tie into Harrelson’s character’s story-idea that apes are more adapted for survival.
Other themes, like Caesar’s struggles of leadership (to stay with the group or be the lone wolf/ape), his drive for revenge and/or survival, and his feelings of guilt and responsibility, were great additions to the narrative that elevated the film. Speaking about Caesar, his death at the end of the movie was quite emotional – he was one of the most memorable sci-fi characters ever that we had a privilege of seeing grow and develop in three, near damn perfect, films.
The new characters in War were excellent additions. The bad ape character was an obvious ploy for comedic relief but he was actually funny (wonder how much of that was improvised and how much was written). The child human character was also really good – she was like a beacon of real humanity and goodness in a war film. Lastly, the few gripes with the picture’s writing I had were mostly illogical gaps in the narrative. For one, the soldier characters were kinda awful at their job, not noticing the little girl or that the apes were gone. Secondly, I wish that the ape characters would have been made to utilize their ape skills more. When Caesar and the band went looking for the colonel, why not make them smell the territory rather than just barge in? Thirdly, this is not really a logical flaw, but I wish that the flower moment with the ape and the girl and that ape’s death scene would have been further apart. It would have given us more time to really get to know the character and would have made the untimely demise even more emotional.
Matt Reeves took over Rupert Wyatt (he directed Rise) on the second film Dawn and also helmed the final installment War. I loved the continued direction that he first chose for the second film – to treat the movie as a thriller or even a drama but to also have spectacular action moments. War was intense and slow but crafted with such care. The only time the film slowed down too much was the sequences with the apes in the camp before they started planning the escape. Nevertheless, that part had to be in the picture because Caesar had to go through a period of muddled motivations and had to re-find his purpose.
The visuals were amazing: the surroundings of nature were just impeccable and a character in their own right, while the CGI of the apes was absolutely unbelievable as well and even better than it was before (and it was already great). The long takes were awe-inspiring and emotionally driven, like the shot of apes kneeling before Caesar in his introduction or the sweeping shots of the battle. Another emotional moment was the scene of the ‘Apes Together Strong’ sign. Ir really reminded me of The Hunger Games ‘Three Finger Salute’.
Generally, I loved what Reeves did with the final installment in this trilogy and I’m now way more trusting in the fact that he can absolutely nail The Batman solo movie. He recently replaced Ben Affleck as the director of that project and his is also rewriting the script.
Andy Serkis (LOTR, Star Wars 7, Avengers 2) was back in his element as Caesar and just did his job to perfection. He portrayed so much emotion through all the CGI: some actors can’t even do that with their real faces. He is a mastermind of motion capture and his work must be rewarded or at least recognized. Academy, prove to us that you are not as old fashioned as we think.
Although other actors had to compete with Serkis, they did do a good job with their motion capture performances too. The comedian Steve Zahn was brilliant as the Bad Ape, while the returning talent Karin Konoval and Terry Notary were also really good. I really wish that their motion capture work would lead to more on-screen acting gigs for them. The humans, this time around, were played by Woody Harrelson (Triple 9, Now You See Me 2) – he was great in the villainous role and the young TV actress Amiah Miller – she was a delight to watch as well.
In short, War For The Planet Of The Apes might be the best thriller of this summer and one of the best blockbusters too. It’s smartly written, well-acted, and directed with care on top of being an incredible showcase of what can be achieved with CGI in this day and age.