UK Release Date: 11th July 2017
Runtime: 140 minutes
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Matt Reeves, Mark Bomback
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Steve Zahn, Ty Olsson, Amiah Miller, Michael Adamthwaite
Synopsis: Two years after war first broke out between humans and apes, a brutal band of human survivors try to hunt down Caesar and his hyper-intelligent simian allies.
Very few blockbuster franchises can boast of the critical adoration that has greeted the revamped Planet of the Apes series since it exploded onto our screens in 2011. Matt Reeves, who directed 2014 sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, has returned for the latest film in the series, which sees apes and humans in the grip of all-out war and feels like the concluding part of a trilogy. War for the Planet of the Apes is another soulful blockbuster that marries big action with even bigger ideas and intense comment on the human condition, with the help of visual effects that are constantly pushing the boundaries of the medium.
Two years after war broke out between humans and apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his family are holed up in the woods, trying to stay away from the remaining humans. A battalion of soldiers led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) tracks the ape stronghold down and commits a series of atrocities that leads Caesar, along with close friends Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), to turn hunter and head off on the trail of the Colonel. Along the way, they meet a seemingly mute human girl (Amiah Miller) and another ape with the ability to talk (Steve Zahn).
War for the Planet of the Apes is not what you expect it to be. Trailers sold the film as a sweeping, epic war movie, with action to rival the bloodletting of Dawn‘s violent third act. Reeves’ film, however, wrong-foots the audience at every turn and, as a result, creates a contemplative, thoughtful story that is more interested in the reasons behind conflict than in the fighting itself. Indeed, it culminates not with a climactic face-off between two desperate species, but an intriguing and unexpected rumination on the self-destructive power of humanity at its worst. This is a movie with epic scope, but one that always brings itself down to Earth through character – whether human or ape.
That’s not to say at all that War for the Planet of the Apes is a film that scrimps on spectacle. It is lensed with remarkable beauty by cinematographer Michael Seresin and the effects work from Weta fits seamlessly into handsomely depicted landscapes as varied as dense forests, snow-covered wastelands and the grimy hell of a military compound. The motion capture on the apes is even more impressive than it has been in the past, with perfect synergy between Weta’s computer wizardy and Andy Serkis’ bravura work in that weird grey onesie covered in ping pong balls.
Serkis is better than he has ever been here, playing Caesar as a gladiator wounded by time and loss – similar to Hugh Jackman‘s work in Logan. He’s a leader made weary by the thudding futility of war. Serkis has been cruelly snubbed for awards recognition for his motion capture work to date and there should certainly be room for him in the acting categories when next year’s Oscars come around. His work across the trilogy has been near-perfect and the level of emotion he brings to Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes, without losing sight of the fact he’s an ape rather than a human, is a real feat of performance.
As with previous Apes movies, the focus is more on the simian stars than their human counterparts. We get a lively roster of talent here, with Steve Zahn adding a welcome smattering of levity as the bizarre Bad Ape and Karin Konoval making the most of an expanded, more interesting role as the orangutan who has been Caesar’s closest confidante since they met while caged in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Unfortunately, the human characters this time around are not drawn particularly well at all. Woody Harrelson’s maniacal Colonel is deepened by a handful of late revelations, but he still feels more like a device than a man – perhaps appropriately for a film that is about the loss of humanity.
War for the Planet of the Apes is ultimately a film that feels less satisfying than its predecessor, with the clash of ideologies between Caesar and the Colonel less well-written than the similar battle between Caesar and fellow ape Koba in Dawn. It feels less tonally assured than that film and is occasionally unwilling to go as blisteringly dark as that film did. Despite that, though, this is one of the year’s best blockbusters and a bittersweet conclusion to a trilogy that shows exactly how a reboot should be done, telling a story in an entirely new way through brand new eyes.
Pop or Poop?
This year has been a strong one for unusual, thought-provoking maturity in the world of blockbuster cinema. War for the Planet of the Apes, which sees Matt Reeves once more deepen the Apes universe and add real soul to the mythology, immediately takes its place among the best big movies of the summer – and indeed the entire year.
Andy Serkis continues to be the master of mo-cap and his simian colleagues are every bit as impressive. It’s the humans that stick out as something of a drawback, though, and it lacks the potent edge of the previous film in the franchise.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.