Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer

War of the Planet of the Apes marks the end of the newest Apes trilogy that started with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes starring James Franco. It is beneficial to have seen all three as there is a linear through line despite the changing cast members who play the humans. It’s been fifteen years since humans created a virus strong enough to kill off a majority of the human species, but in turn, give apes a super-intelligence and strength. Since then, a war has been brewing between the last remaining humans and the apes with some apes turning against their own kind by standing next to the humans in battle. Caesar (Serkis) has been the alpha male ape leading the pack along the way. He has since gone in hiding hoping to protect his family. Their location comes under siege when a man known only as the Colonel (Harrelson) and a crew of his soldiers come swooping down hoping for ape genocide. Caesar watches a majority of his family perish except for his young son. He makes it his mission to get his revenge on the Colonel to avenge the killing of his family.

When I first saw Rise, it felt like a mediocre movie until we got to the end when the apes started their ascent and takeover on the bridge. There I knew there was potential with what could come next. It was a very different take on this material than the old Charlton Heston films or even the Tim Burton remake. We were past the point of having actors in an elaborate prosthetic makeup job as motion capture technology is now used for the ape effects. This key difference breathes a new life and urgency where there hadn’t been before.

Much like other trilogies, War takes what I loved about the middle film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and brings it all home to an extremely satisfying conclusion. One key reason is the outstanding powerhouse performance by Andy Serkis. He’s been thought of as the main actor to bring this technology to life after portraying Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, the title character in King Kong, and Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I forgot I was watching a movie about apes as they felt like any other living, breathing character in a movie. The emotional heart of the character is still captured by the actor, which can be missing underneath the prosthetics used in previous movies. Throughout War, we see the core group of ape characters all have high stakes and motivations that you feel invested in. The root of the final chapter is a fathers and sons story as we see how Caesar is propelled by the death his family. He’s a character that has always wanted peace but is now conflicted when the idea of revenge takes over by wanting justice for what happened to his family. Does turning to revenge make Caesar any better than the human? We also see this concept played out with the choices the Colonel makes regarding his own son who has previously perished. Woody Harrelson has an exceptional monologue to Caesar that makes you see his character in a new light.

The series represents a variety of political and scientific themes. Director Matt Reeves has reteamed with screenwriter Mark Bomback who also wrote Dawn. They play on that idea of what happens when man plays God by creating a species that can overtake it, and in turn, ask how we react and gain control back when that reality happens. Woody Harrelson’s character talks about how it has become a holy war in the end. At one point he states, “Nature is punishing us for our arrogance.” I was also struck by the concept of members of a species turning on each other as we see with the apes when some of them turn against Caesar. It can be heartbreaking to watch the apes fueled with hatred and evil against one another. Like I mentioned earlier I had to take a step back and remember that this is movie with ape characters under the Planet of the Apes franchise. This isn’t the campy movie series from before anymore.

Parents out there should be cognizant of the darker tones and not bring kids to this movie. It lives up to its title as it is dark, violent, suspenseful, and can be scary with how lifelike the apes act in the action scenes. To combat this, Reeves and Bomback add plenty of heart and a little humor to even out the tone. Steve Zahn is the key comedic presence in the film as Bad Ape. That’s how he introduces himself, as he was a domesticated ape from the zoo that has picked up and mimicked the words he was told. Reeves has made a well-balanced conclusion to this trilogy. You could enjoy it on it’s own, but it’s more impactful if you’ve seen the journey Caesar has taken up to this point. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself drawn to the score by Michael Giacchino. Giacchino has proven to be one of the best composers working in Hollywood. Much like John Williams he knows how to use music to elevate any scene to bring out its emotional core when dialogue isn’t needed. His score in War ranges from simple piano in one scene to bold and epic in the sweeping climax.

At two hours and twenty minutes, it could use some trimming. That seems to be a standard now for the summer blockbuster. In the end, War for the Planet of the Apes is a story about family, brotherhood, science, and evolution. Director Matt Reeves has made an unexpected, yet satisfying new take on the Planet of the Apes movies. You’ll come out with a newer appreciation for this trilogy and see the power motion capture technology can have on acting and storytelling.

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Don’t discredit this Apes trilogy as a standard Hollywood remakes. The conclusion is epic, thought provoking, and proves its light years ahead of the old Heston films.


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