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

Synopsis – After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.

My Take – Based on the novel from author Pierre Boulle, this excellent yet under rated science fiction series has come a long way since its first film Planet of the Apes starring Charles Heston back in 1968. It’s success has led to four sequels (Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes), a disastrous Tim Burton directed reboot in 2001, and a recent excellent reimagining in the form of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) & now this 2017 release. That’s almost 50 years of talking apes questioning the role, purpose and intent of humans. Director Matt Reeves is back after ‘Dawn‘ and clearly has an affinity for the characters and the continuing saga. Touted as the finale to an epic trilogy, is without a doubt probably the best all-around set of three films we’ve gotten in the 21st Century. The Apes franchise has shaped out to become a rare Hollywood triumph in more ways than initially perceived. While Rise was a runaway hit in 2011, its story was about humanity’s unintended conflict with a new race of super intelligent apes. Dawn in 2014 intensified that conflict before concluding that however hateful humans can be, peace is always an option. That little chance of peace is thrown out the window in this 2017 release. With staggeringly good mo-cap for the apes and a touching and memorable story, the film is a delight to watch, & well establishes Andy Serkis‘ motion captured talking Ape known as Caesar as an icon in recent pop culture. Yes, this visually stunning effects driven Hollywood film is the blockbuster we deserve!

The story follows Caesar (Andy Serkis), an intelligent common chimpanzee and leader to a tribe of genetically enhanced apes. Hiding in the woods, since the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes two years ago, humans & apes have been in rigorous war, with each side suffering major losses of life. Still haunted by the deceit & death of his former lieutenant, Koba (Toby Kebbell), Caesar still hopes that both species can find a common ground & achieve peace again. However, when Colonel (Woody Harrelson), an iron-fisted human soldier & leader of the paramilitary organization known as Alpha-Omega, in his obsession to wipe out Apes to preserve man’s role as the dominant species, kills Cornelia (Judy Greer), Caesar’s wife and their oldest son, Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones), Caesar must deal with his darker instincts & must choose between his animal drive of revenge and his role as a leader to his whole community in a war that will determine the fate of both of their species and the future of the planet. From the opening scene, leading from a recap of past films in an imaginative and flowing manner, you are led back into this beloved new world alongside friend or foe?! The ensuing drama that you are then taken along with, is breathtaking, shocking, brutal and brave! Opening with an incredibly tense sequence that sees a group of soldiers closing in on an ape trench where Caesar is hiding, the film builds on the foundations laid by its two predecessors to deliver a film that never loses focus of its narrative, all while continuing to deliver spectacle in abundance. The strong narrative is a key feature of the series and the film exceeded my expectations with the story it tells. The strained relationship between humans and apes is just the tip of the iceberg and, if you thought things got bad between the two in the previous films, you haven’t seen anything yet. Matt Reeves returns to direct this installment and this is easily his most accomplished piece of work yet, beating the stellar work he did on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Whether it’s building tension, evoking emotion or delivering pulsating action, Reeves delivers plenty of memorable moments to go with some of the great moments in the series. Reeves‘ film is accompanied by the outstanding visual effects that have grown better and better with each film, some breathtaking cinematography from Michael Seresin and Michael Giacchino‘s score that brilliantly accentuates the interchange of emotions throughout. Although war is the main idea for the film director Matt Reeves changes the pace to add humanity which carries the emotion from the apes which was another problem in the others too but here it’s been cleaned up, there are many spectacular humanizing moments, carried by timely emotional heft around Maurice (Karin Konoval) and his silent human friend (Amiah Miller). At a point about mid-way through this sequel, we see a portion of a tunnel with graffiti reading “Ape-ocalypse Now.” Not only is that a pun on the film “Apocalypse Now,” it also adequately describes the tone and style of this chapter of the franchise. The film packs a greater emotional punch than a typical summer blockbuster. It is impressive how director Matt Reeves is able to make us feel so much for the main ape characters—which is primarily done through plot development, the film’s dark tone, and the apes’ motives and even facial expressions. While the film is on the longer side (142 minutes,) it never feels tedious or too long.  The talented Mr. Reeves (who also directed “Cloverfield” and “Let Me In” and is in assigned to the next Ben Affleck outing as “The Batman“) directs with panache, never letting the foot come off the tension pedal.  Caesar remains a focal point for this film and rightly so. We have seen him go from an innocent child to cruelly-treated animal to fair and peaceful leader to the regrettable warrior. We see the strength of Caesar as a leader of both the apes and a family but we also get to see the weakness he has of controlling his conflicting emotions towards humans, visions of Koba haunting him as he must decide what’s best for the apes.

The majority of the film is spent with the apes and it’s a true testament to both the visual effects and the motion capture performances that the film is able to do this.  The script provides a story that nods frequently into the setup of 1968 film as well as the previous two films. The film is also more emotionally driven than I expected. I would advise people not to go into this picture expecting a fully blown war film with explosions, gun fights, blood and violence. Where there is some of this, a lot of the film centers around the apes and in particular, Caesar’s inner emotional conflict. While Reeves goes out of his way to make the ape characters feel unique and personal, the same cannot be said for the human characters. Unlike the apes, they feel simply just like caricatures. This notion is not helped by the fact that Woody Harrelson‘s supporting performance as a colonel left something to be desired. The only exception to this is the young girl that the apes find. I would like to have seen, perhaps, a small cameo from James Franco or Jason Clarke, however, unfortunately, there is none. I have to admit that, despite it have being number one on my wish list for this film, it would have arguably spoilt the desolate, unforgiving tone of the film. Although, if done right, it would have been nice to have briefly seen some of the great characters from the previous prequels. Another star of the film for me was Michael Giacchino‘s music which is simply awesome. Starting with a superbly retro rendition of the 20th Century Fox theme, Giacchino decorates every scene with great themes and like all great film music some of it you barely notice. A dramatic telling by the Colonel of his back-story is accompanied by sonorous music that is similar in its power themes from great films: only when the scene finishes and the music stops do you appreciate how central it was to the emotion of the scene. The motion capture performance in this film is, as expected, spell- binding, and the work of Andy Serkis (among many other people) simply must be recognized at the Academy Awards. Andy Serkis is once again superb in the role of Caesar, giving arguably his best performance to date, conveying such a range of emotion phenomenally well. The time has come for Serkis to get the recognition he deserves with some awards nominations because what he does with the character of Caesar is nothing short of spectacular. The sheer attention to detail is like nothing you’ve seen before, and one truly feels immersed in this decaying world of conflict between two species. The special effects, however, are neatly accompanied by a compelling narrative that really put Caesars morals to the test – digging deep into his values, beliefs and attitudes. Serkis is joined by the returning Karin Konoval as Maurice and Terry Notary as Rocket, who both continue the solid work they’ve done before in the series. Also returning is Toby Kebbel as Koba – this time in a manner that really messes with Caesar’s mind. Steve Zahn steals his scenes as the comedy relief chimp known only as “bad ape”, with Judy Greer as Cornelia, and young Amiah Miller as Nova (same name as Linda Harrison in the original). Nova is a human girl who seems to fit much more with the apes than the warmongering humans. I was looking forward to Woody Harrelson‘s presence in the film and, while I thought he was very good as the Colonel, I was genuinely surprised at the direction his character went, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one. Maintaining such a high standard of quality throughout a franchise is one of the toughest challenges in filmmaking however, it’s a challenge that director Matt Reeves’ film thrives on, going on to become the best of the Planet of the Apes reboot series. Growing in stature and intelligence, mirroring the journey of Caesar throughout the series, each film has delivered leading on to a stunning final chapter. On the whole, ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ is a well-crafted, well-written, well-acted, technically brilliant film and marks an end to one of the most groundbreaking trilogies ever made.

Directed – Matt Reeves

Starring – Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 140 minutes

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