Release date: July 11, 2017
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval, and Terry Notary
Director: Matt Reeves
Story: Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson). After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both of their species and the future of the planet.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of this review, I want to take a minute to discuss Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar. I have always been under the belief that Andy Serkis is a good actor, but I’ll admit that it wasn’t until Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes that I realised he is, in fact, a great actor. Caesar, in my opinion, is one of the best cinematic characters we’ve ever seen and that is only made more impressive by the fact that this is a motion-capture and CGI character. In War For The Planet Of The Apes, Serkis delivers a career-best performance, bringing an astounding level of power, and depth to Caesar, which helps the to audience understand what this great leader is feeling and thinking throughout the movie. While all of the Planet of the Apes movies have gathered Oscar buzz from the audience, the Academy still refuses to accept that motion-capture is real acting. It’s hard to deny how stupid and backwards this type of thinking truly is. Serkis is on set for each of his scenes, acting opposite the likes of Woody Harrelson and what we see on screen isn’t a false performance or CGI emotions, it’s Serkis’ incredible acting ability. I can only hope that the Academy will open their eyes because if any of Serkis’ performances deserve the best actor nomination, it’s this one.
Nine movies now exist in the growing Apes franchise, and War For The Planet Of The Apes stands as the most emotional and exciting instalment since the 1968 original. Probably the most interesting element of this biblical-style epic is the emotional and surprising narrative that unfolds. Matt Reeves once again creates a unique chapter of the Apes series and takes Caesar down an unexpected path. While the title would seem to suggest that a great war will unfold between man and ape, we are instead treated to an even more satisfying revenge tale, which has an extremely tight focus on character and an equally great villain in Woody Harrelson’s Colonel. Harrelson delivers an almost Brando-esque performance as a desperate soldier trying to salvage what’s left of the human race. My biggest issue with the previous instalments of the series was the lack of development in the human characters, but this is a matter that has been more than remedied in War For The Planet Of The Apes. The Colonel is not only a maniacal and evil opposition to the apes but is also an incredibly relatable character, and I can’t help but think that I might do the same thing in his position.
The Colonel isn’t the only character introduced to the franchise in this instalment, and some much-needed humour comes from Bad Ape, a new character played excellently by Steve Zahn. Much like Harrelson and Serkis, Zahn delivers a career defining performance and when required, brings a surprising amount of emotion and sadness to a character that I feared would damage the tone of the film. We also meet Amiah Miller as Nova, a mute child the apes have adopted and chosen to protect. This element of the movie and Nova’s role in the narrative adds a certain amount of depth to the conflict between man and ape, proving that there is still hope for the human race. It’s also hard not to notice the growing amount of badass girls in recent film and television. Nova joins the likes of Laura (Logan) and Eleven (Stranger Things) as one of the most badass little girls in entertainment.
In a film titled War For The Planet Of The Apes, it would be a disappointment if Matt Reeves didn’t deliver on the promise of battle, and never has war looked so beautiful. The action scenes, including the third act escape, are heart-poundingly brilliant and are only enhanced by Michael Seresin’s incredible cinematography and Michael Giacchino’s masterful score. Still, the great action, visuals and explosions are only enjoyable because Matt Reeves has spent the necessary amount of time building the tension and developing these characters. Without a love for Caesar and his mission of saving ape kind, the third act battle would not have the same impact, and we would not have the same experience sitting in the theatre.
Looking at the history of cinema, there are only a handful of trilogies that I would consider to be great. That includes movies like Star Wars, The Dark Knight, and The Lord Of The Rings, but does this new Planet Of The Apes trilogy make the list? Absolutely! With War For The Planet Of The Apes, Matt Reeves has created a beautiful, emotional and epic conclusion to Caesar’s story and it would be a crime not to place this among some of the best trilogies ever created. Between great visuals, stunning cinematography, and one of the most impressive lead performances in cinema, War For The Planet Of The Apes concludes one of the most epic and unforgettable stories of all-time.