War is hell. That theme is constantly present during the majority of War for the Planet of the Apes, the final chapter in the trilogy reboot that kicked off in 2011. What started out as a sweet story about a man who adopted an orphaned ape to raise in his home, has since turned into a dark tale of death and revenge. While it doesn’t quite reach the epic storytelling of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it offers a solid wrap-up with multiple surprises that should keep its audience in a state of dreaded suspense.
War for the Planet of the Apes picks up five years after the events that took place in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar and his shrewdness have holed up in the woods, keeping their distance from the northern human invaders. Caesar wants peace, but makes some decisions that cost him dearly on a personal level. No longer able to keep his cool, he sets out on his own to seek revenge against the man who wronged him. A harrowing tale of imprisonment, despair, and teamwork unfolds as the ape leader is torn between his lust for revenge and his family.
Films rarely surprise me, especially when it comes to the final film of a trilogy. But War succeeds in weaving a tale that heads in unexpected directions that I appreciated more than expected. It may have been a hair long, but I couldn’t tell you what aspect of the story to leave on the cutting room floor. There were multiple subtleties that should have clued me in to later scenes, but I was genuinely surprised on multiple occasions. The film also added just the right amount of humor to hedge the dark tones that took up the majority of the 140-minute runtime.
Woody Harrelson is the villain you love to hate, but he doesn’t quite reach the level of evil I would have liked. His performance comes across a tad flat, though that feels more attributed to the writing. He’s the leader of this human group of warriors, yet you rarely see him actually performing the awful acts taken against the apes. He merely quietly commands it, and I found myself directing my hate more towards minor characters than the Colonel himself.
The real reason to spend your theater dollars on War, however, is Andy Serkis’ performance capture work as Caesar. It’s simply astounding to see the level of emotion he is able to portray consistently. There are multiple extended moments where not even a shred of dialogue is spoken between characters, yet so much story is told in his eyes and facial expressions. It’s time for this man to get the recognition he deserves. Since one doesn’t exist, I’m calling on the Academy to create a new award called “The Serkis”. Make it happen, people.
While Serkis may be the star on the acting front, an equal amount of praise should be given to director Matt Reeves and his stellar special effects team. More times than not, I felt like I was witnessing actual animals on-screen. If they hadn’t been talking, I would have believed it if someone told me otherwise. The minute details given to each primate is simply astounding. My hat is off to everyone involved that made this movie a visual treat for our eyes.
Additionally, the cold setting inherent to film added to the intensity of the bleak tone. I found myself agonizing with every suffering creature, while my hatred for my own species boiled inside of me. The mark of a good film is one that impacts emotionally, and War gets extra points for doing just that with non-human characters.
The first two films in the Apes series set the bar pretty high. As much as I enjoyed this film, it’s probably my least favorite of the trilogy. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the final installment. On the contrary, it provided a journey I didn’t expect to get to the ending I assumed was coming. I may not be nearly as compelled to give this one as many multiple viewings as I did Rise and Dawn, but War for the Planet of the Apes aligns itself well enough within the trilogy to leave its mark in my memory for a long time.
Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn
Written by Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Directed by Matt Reeves