War For The Planet of The Apes Review
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 isn’t very focused on the battle aspect of the war, even if the title would have you believe otherwise. Director Matt Reeves already did his big human versus apes battle in the previous film, and it was wise to not just turn this next film into an action heavy expansion of what he’d just done. Instead -- after the early action to set up the film's mission -- we get a slower more methodical film. The relationships between the apes we have grown to know over the years are pushed, Caesar’s morality is questioned, and with The Colonel playing out like Kurtz from Apocalypse Now in the background, it’s hard not to feel like that film had a lot of influence on this one. War is a very brooding film for the most part, and its second quarter is very dark and symbolic in nature. Be it the Colonel that will stand in front of his troops chanting while he shaves his head, or Caesar’s expanded symbolism as a saviour or Christ-like figure for the apes.
A new ape played by Steve Zahn, who simply refers to himself as Bad Ape, is introduced for some comic relief early in the film. Although I laughed at his jokes, and the funny nature of this new character, I couldn’t help but feel like some of the humour was oddly placed, especially when the next scene was back to gloom and doom.
Maurice, the orangutan who has been with Caesar since the first film, discovers a young human girl in a cabin on the group's travels. Played fantastically by Amiah Miller, she is a weird welcome to the group of apes. Where Caesar looks at her wearily with distrust, Maurice has not given into thinking all of humanity is bad, and at times the girl becomes a symbol of what could have been, especially when she looks upon her own species and what they have become.
Plot-wise, War doesn’t come together clean by curtains close. Two thirds of the film is great. You have these moments with Caesar and his inner turmoil, the relationship between the apes, and a crazy Colonel looming in the background. But then in the film's last act, it seems to throw out all signs of reason, cause, probability, and sense. Some very coincidental events start happening, to the point that I was nearly shaking my head at how ridiculous this last act had become. It was like a race to the finish, and Reeve and co-writer Mark Bomback weren't sure how to wrap up what they started by getting the film where they wanted by the end. When you had to watch a lot of silly things happen one after another just to get there, it also cheapens the finish and the emotional moment you're supposed to experience.
Andy Serkis finishes the trilogy with a fantastic performance as Caesar once again. He brings such character to Caesar just through his emotes, but even more through voice, as Caesar takes more of a speaking role in this film. Unfortunately, it’ll likely go down as yet another under-appreciated performance from Serkis, who continues to be one of the most underrated actors working. His work as Caesar across these three films has easily been one of the most underrated roles and performances of the past 10 years.
Michael Seresin photographs the film wonderfully as it traverses several different landscapes and adds a wilderness war zone vibe. It’s apocalyptic, but it doesn’t feel like the end of the world as much as it's simply something starting new. Seresin’s work, of course, would be wasted, as would the actors, if it wasn’t for the wonderful VFX work that goes into the apes. They look amazing here, and they have to in order to make the film believable. Michael Giacchino complements all of this on the film's score, his best work of the year, which sounds like a war movie while featuring a much more tense and tribal vibe.
War For The Planet of The Apes' final act doesn’t sit well with me, but I enjoyed War so much up until a point that it’s hard not to just waiver some of my issues. Even so, by the time the film was wrapping up, I felt good knowing we got a good sci-trilogy here (not something you can say often now) and one that, if decided, could be continued. You can’t help but wonder what happens next when those last few frames linger on screen before the film's credits roll, yet as a trilogy it finishes almost perfectly in those last moments.
Directors: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves, Rick Jaffa (based on characters by), Amanda Silver (based on characters by)
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller,