War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) Review
War for the Planet of the Apes is directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and stars Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games, Zombieland). "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 is set to conclude the series...will it go out on a high note?
I think this is a rather interesting franchise and looking back, everything happens in a suitable and realistic order. The first film is the rise, the second is where things get out of control and the third is where it's finished. I can firmly say that War for the Planet of the Apes is my favourite out of the three: I liked the first but hated the second (it found itself at #6 on my worst films of 2014 list). The things that annoyed me about Dawn are less annoying this time around and I was able to switch my brain off and dive into this fantastical world ruled by apes. I'm not even going to stop at the best in the series, this is actually one of the best films I have seen so far this year. Was not expecting to say that.
I'll begin by addressing the issues I had with the second film and how they are fixed here. Firstly, I found Dawn incredibly silly - yes, the Apes still talk here and ride on horses but it just felt much more natural. I don't know if that's down to the initial shock fading but it just made more sense in the bleak world of War for the Planet of the Apes. The action also went on for way too long in the third act of Dawn. However, for War, I actually thought the third act really lacked action and was a missed opportunity. For a film called 'WAR' for the Planet of the Apes - I expected a war but instead I got some explosions (which were cool and impressive) and then it was all stopped by an avalanche. Could have easily been anticlimactic and I think it will be for many but for some reason, it worked and actually felt like it was saying something - humans can fight all they want but nobody is going to stop mother nature.
The plot for War for the Planet of the Apes was surprisingly quite contained - it didn't feel like a world war or even a war at all, until the end. For the most part, this is a revenge thriller with Caesar going after The Colonel who killed his wife and son. I thought the motivation made sense and I was fully behind Caesar all the way. There are some interesting plot twists and turns throughout that make War for the Planet of the Apes so much more than a generic revenge thriller - there's a disease outbreak that is stripping humans of their humane qualities, The Colonel is rounding up the apes and putting them into concentration camp-like facilities and The Colonel has more enemies than just the apes. In the sense of a war being explosions and fighting, this film doesn't depict that side in detail (see Wonder Woman for a masterclass though) but in the sense of the evils of war, this film depicts it so poignantly bleak. There are so many parallels to human history. For example, Xenophobia - the apes are simply disliked because they are apes. Groups of people saw similar prejudice in real World Wars. I found this parallel very clever but also very dark and grim. I think this is possibly the darkest summer blockbuster so far this year, making it all the more powerful. I also think it's a smart touch that none of the 'evil' human characters have actual names - simply 'The Colonel' - it stops the audience from connecting with the character and reinforcing them onto the apes side. This is something I struggled with in the past; I found it hard to be on side with the apes but this time, I was with them all the way!
War for the Planet of the Apes is a pretty long film with a running time over 140 minutes. I didn't feel it. The film flowed at a really nice and steady pace and because the story constantly changed direction and added new layers, I was always engaged: I wanted Caesar to find the Colonel. I wanted Caesar to escape the facility. I wanted Caesar to save the apes. I wanted the apes to win....SPOILER...I didn't want Caesar to die though...but it worked and had a poetic sense to it - the whole series has followed his story and he has finally achieved what he has wanted for these apes - freedom. I also thought that it was a genius idea for that doll to be infected (of course it would be) and then The Colonel, an incredibly evil man, suffered what he most feared. The tagline for the film perfectly summaries the film - for freedom: not only from the facility but from constant hunting, for family: revenge for Caesar's family being brutally killed and for the planet: the final shots at the end of the film show a beautiful planet and are a complete contrast to the grim world when man was on it.
War for the Planet of the Apes is visually mesmerising - from the cinematography to the CGI to the brilliant motion capture work from Andy Serkis. It definitely elevates the film and aids to feeling more sophisticated. This made all of the dark imagery feel so much more grim and real. I said this with Okja and one of the characters actually comments on this in the film but it's definitely the realisation of the eyes that really helps audiences to connect with these computer generated images - they just feel so real! Speaking of Okja, it's odd that two very similar films thematically have come out so close. I actually think Okja and War for the Planet of the Apes are great films to watch back-to-back. Another technical aspect about the film that was brilliant was the score. Michael Giacchino did a fantastic job- it joins Wonder Woman in being a score that deserves a nomination from the Academy. The score felt like one from a beloved classic- War for the Planet of the Apes felt much more highbrow due to a score that played incredibly well on top of the film and fits perfectly with what is going on on screen.
The performances are all good. Andy Serkis is of course the star of the show - he's developed a name for himself by doing motion capture work and he's the only recognisable name out there for it. He's fantastic and praise must go to both the CG team AND Serkis for bringing Caesar to life. What a great character, flaws and all...because no hero is perfect. Woody Harrelson is the only live action character who actually has a lot to do - I found his character incredibly evil and Harrelson really sold that. Even though I think someone a little more eccentric could have made the character feel crazy, Harrelson did a good enough job and he fit with the tone of the film. After seeing Split, James McAvoy would have probably been brilliant but if he went a little too crazy, the whole tone could have been messed up. The only other notable live action character is played by Amiah Miller. Miller was fine but I don't understand how her character is going to survive in a world ruled by apes.
War for the Planet of the Apes is the strongest entry in the series (...yet? please be more!). The plot depicts a very grim and realistic war that the human race knows all too well. The dark and bleak imagery is very powerful and it's actually quite horrific and saddening at times. Andy Serkis does a brilliant job and Giacchino has created an outstanding score. The visual effects are rather incredible. For me, this is the most pleasantly surprising film I've watched in a long time and is one of the best I've seen this year. Matt Reeves has done a brilliant job with this one, it was as if Quentin Tarantino made an Apes film! If the third act had been a little more satisfying, War for the Planet of the Apes could have been something incredible. I'll settle for very very good though.