Review – War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

by Old King Clancy

There should have never been a Planet Of The Apes reboot, a prequel series chronicling the events that led to the destruction of humanity and the rise of the apes. It was a ridiculous concept that should’ve never made it passed the conception, but it did make it. Through this whole trilogy, from Rise to Dawn to War, this franchise has proven itself one of the greatest sci-fi trilogies of the modern age. With War For The Planet Of The Apes, they end this series in the perfect way to create one of the most personal and morally complex blockbusters out there today.

It has been 2 years since the end of Dawn, in that time an Army Battalion called in from the north and led by a mysterious and cold-hearted Colonel (Woody Harrelson) have been hunting Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe with the intention of killing the apes and reclaiming the Earth for humanity. Caesar meanwhile only wants peace for his family, but knows that the apes can’t stay where they are for much longer or else risk The Colonel finding them.  Caesar also suffers from waking nightmares spurred on by his guilt over killing Koba.

After a devastating attack from The Colonel, the apes realize that the time to move is now, but Caesar cannot leave without finding and killing The Colonel. With his four closest friends, Maurice (Karin Konova), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) following him, the apes make their journey into the heart of darkness. They picked up allies Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a hermit chimp living alone in the mountain, and Nova (Amiah Miller), a kind-hearted mute human girl along the way. However, once they reach The Colonel’s camp they realize that there’s more to the man in charge than they expected and Caesar ends up battling wits with The Colonel for control over the Ape population. All the while, Caesar fights with himself over the hate that is enveloping his heart and where that journey will take him.

While not as expansive as Dawn’s storyline, this film tackles a much more personal level that makes it that much more interesting. Caesar is the heart of this story, but that heart is faced with hate and pain from every direction, and watching him struggle is such a strong note to take this series into it’s concluding moments. It’s part Outlaw Josey Wales, part Apocalypse Now, and part Great Escape, but it combines all those elements into an experience that feels like the only proper conclusion this series could’ve had.

The acting was spectacular on all fronts, with Andy Serkis once again proving why the Awards need to recognize Motion Capture Performance. His turn as Caesar is one of the greatest arcs of the 21st Century with the weight of all three films taking their toll on him in each one. This definitely feels like a culmination of the trilogy with Caesar in a very dark place, the ghost of Koba still haunting him both through the ongoing war with the humans, and through his own nightmarish visions brought on the guilt of killing another Ape. As a result, this is a much harsher and colder Caesar than we’ve seen before, one that doesn’t hesitate to kill, one that is openly defiant, but also one who is struggling. The stress of being seen as a legend takes its toll of him and he finds himself torn between being the leader the Apes need, or giving in to his hate, and seeking personal vengeance. Dichotomy played a big part in Serkis’ performance in Dawn, but here he takes it to another level, the way he brings about both the light and dark in Caesar. I’ve said it before, but this more than proves it, Caesar is the character Andy Serkis needs to be remembered for.

The villain of the piece is the unnamed Colonel, who gives the film a final strong antagonist to close the series out with. I’ve been mentioning Apocalypse Now a lot, and for good reason, but The Colonel does feel like he’s channeling Kurtz. This is a man so focused on his mission, he’s forgotten why he has one to begin with. This is a chilling performance from Harrelson, but what’s scariest about The Colonel is that he doesn’t appear to have lost his mind completely. This could’ve been a very easy character to overdue, but Harrelson holds him back enough, so we see his facilities are still with him even if his methods are barbaric. The Colonel is a character driven by anger and desperation, he knows the Apes are close to being the dominant species on the planet, but he’s not going to let them take it without a fight. Oddly enough, The Colonel is perhaps the only human character to recognize the humanity in the Apes, but he uses that as leverage against them when they fall out of line.

The relationship between Caesar and The Colonel provide the film with a central conflict that make use of the film’s psychology, in that both characters are very similar, but they approach matters from different perspectives. Both are leaders, both are held in high regard, both have suffered losses, and both want an end to the war. Caesar wants to be left alone, The Colonel knows that without intervention, and the Human race is doomed. Obviously, the way the film is designed we’re suppose to side with the Apes, but it raises a rather difficult question about the necessity for survival, more aptly can we ever accept extinction?

Working with Caesar are his closest friends; Luca, a giant gorilla used as the muscle, he’s definitely the least characterized, but his loyalty to Caesar knows no bounds and his small, softer moments with Nova do enough to endear him. Rocket returns from the last two films, once again Caesar’s best friend, and the only one who understands what he’s going through. I would’ve liked more Rocket, but this is the best show of their partnership in the whole trilogy with an escape plan being formulated between the two through sign language. Also returning is Maurice, Caesar’s adviser, Maurice is the gentlest of the Apes and often plays the voice of reason, recognizing the need for calm over violence, it’s because of this that he takes it upon himself to adopt Nova, seeing that helping a child in need is what separates them from the Humans. Maurice has always been one of the strongest characterized Apes and is no different here.

The two newcomers to the series are Bad Ape and Nova. Bad Ape gives the film such much needed levity and humor, with this being the darkest chapter to date, having a little extra humor isn’t a bad thing. A former zoo chimp, he escaped after the outbreak, but has been alone ever since, as a result his social skills are lacking. It’s never not funny to see Bad Ape fail to grasp a concept or disagree with a dangerous plan of action, maybe because the rest of the film is so grim, but he’s a welcome addition nonetheless. Nova is also welcome, but for a very different reason, because she’s a mute that enters the film on the same level as the apes, talking through sign language, and with gestures instead of words. More than that though, Nova serves as the antithesis to The Colonel, her gentle nature and kindness juxtaposes the violence brought on by The Colonel and allowed her to stand in as Caesar’s reminder of the goodness in humanity. People like Will and Malcolm believed there could be coexistence, Nova is a small character, but the effects of her inclusion are felt through the bones of the story.

Returning from Dawn, is Matt Reeves as director and he manages to improve if that were at all possible. This is a very different beast though, where Dawn was about all sides of a conflict and the justification that led to war, this one tackled all sides of Caesar and the choices he’s made both for the Apes as a whole and for himself. This is a much quieter film that you would expect, not that it’s slow – it’s nearly two and half hours, but it does not feel it in the slightest – but aside from the opening and the finale, there’s no big action set-piece. The film instead focuses on the psychology of the characters and how they interact. It’s why the film hits so much harder because we’ve seen Caesar’s journey, we know where he’s come from, and what he’s done so for this film. To put it in the spotlight, not only makes sense, but allows the weight of all three films to be felt in full force.

As much as I’m referencing Apocalypse Now, the film does share quite a bit in common with Bridge On The River Kwai with Caesar in the Nicholson role and The Colonel in Saito’s. Even in captivity, the legend of Caesar carries weight and The Colonel recognizes this, the torture he puts Caesar under isn’t just to break him, it’s to break all Apes starting with Caesar as the cornerstone. In doing so, it places that much more anger onto Caesar trying to hold himself together, but it also makes their final encounter that much more interesting due to how both characters act.

The film also works on a purely entertaining level, the big scenes might only be the bookends, but both are incredible and great mirrors of each other. The opening has the soldiers attacking Caesar’s camp, but despite heavy firepower, the tactical advantage of the Apes wins out. Conversely at the end, the attack on The Colonel’s base is done with The Colonel holding the advantage, but without the necessary leadership the full-scale invasion doesn’t go the way you always expect it to. And that’s not even including the smaller set-pieces like a horse-ridden chase from the snowy forests or a very Great Escape style breakout toward the start of the third act.

The biggest compliment I can give this film though is that it looks incredible. I saw this in 3D, which I’ll admit I don’t believe was entirely necessary, but during the landscape scenes the screen just filled with these vast, unending scenery’s, be it jungle, desert, of frozen wasteland. You really got the sense that this was the end of days, that the world was resetting the age of man, and there was really nothing left out there. A point the film brings up on occasion with the theme of nature punishing man for their hubris. Of course, I also have to talk about the SFX work as well because Holy Shit, this is some of the greatest CGI ever put to cinema, and it needs to be seen to be believed. The sheer amount of detail that is put into the Apes is ridiculous to think about, every hair can be counted during a close-up, with the few specks of grey in Caesar being especially notable. Their skin looks suitably leathery and worn, the wrinkles in the older Apes are all in full detail. I was fooled by Maurice in the last film a couple of times trying to work out if he was CGI or a puppet used in its place. In this film, I was fooled by nearly every Ape, there is an unthinkable amount of effort put into this film to make us truly believe these Apes are part of this world, but they pull it off in spades.

When I walked out of War For The Planet Of The Apes I asked myself; “Do I have any reason not to give this a 5/5?” And I didn’t, everything about this film is pitch-perfect, the morally complex and personal driven story-line, Woody Harrelson’s Colonel giving the film a strong villain, and Serkis taking Caesar to his greatest performance yet. Matt Reeve’s directing was entertaining, challenging, intelligent, and astounding. This is everything that’s been promised since Caesar came into our lives 7 years ago, and it more than made the journey worth it…. a goddamn masterpiece of modern sci-fi!

 

I am giving War For The Planet Of The Apes a 5 out of 5 Hairpieces!

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