Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Directed: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller
Very few franchises have managed to sustain a high-quality level of consistency over the course of multiple movies. Whether it be a weak third installment or a lacklustre prequel (or two or three), many franchises often find themselves faltering at some point or another, with the vicious ire of fans snapping at their heels, ringing the proverbial bell of SHAME for all to hear.
Thankfully, the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, which first arrived on the scene back in 2011 with Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, has never suffered such a problem, remaining beautifully dependable in its storytelling quality, only improving with each subsequent installment. A monumental feat by anyone’s standards, let alone by that of a major studio franchise.
Well, now comes the third installment of this new rebooted series of films, once again directed by Matt Reeves, and the question is, does it manage to retain that consistent quality that made the first couple of Apes movies two of the best studio blockbusters in recent memory? The answers is a resounding… YES. Make no mistake about it, War for the Planet of the Apes is the best movie in this current trilogy and easily the best Planet of the Apes movie since the original 1968 classic.The story picks up two years after Dawn, with Caesar (a sublime Andy Serkis) and his colony of highly advanced apes hiding in the woods, whilst engaged in a fight for their very survival against the last remnants of the US military, led by Woody Harrelson’s sadistic and mysterious ‘The Colonel’. After a harrowing tragedy befalls Caesar, he and a small band of his closest and loyal followers go on a mission of vengeance that will have drastic repercussions for all involved, and will ultimately decide the fates of both human and ape kind.
What made the first two Apes movies so memorable is that, as well as the groundbreaking CGI motion capture work and performances from the cast, the filmmakers never once forgot the plight of their characters. Indeed, the plight of Caesar and that of his compatriots always came first, and that’s the case once again. War for the Planet of the Apes is Caesar’s journey and in a way, comes full circle from that of Rise. Caesar’s story is one of pathos and self-reflection, a character who’s at once a leader and one out for vengeance. Indeed, without getting into spoilers, this film feels much more of a personal and intimate journey for Caesar than the ones before it, and the film is all the better for it.
And speaking of Caesar, once again Andy Serkis delivers a truly astonishing central performance. Aided by the spectacular mo-cap and visual effects, one quickly forgets that Caesar was created in a computer and that Andy Serkis and his cohorts were probably on set dressed in silly grey pajama things. A simple close up, a strand of hair, a nuanced look, the eyes, all of it beautifully captured and played magnificently by Serkis and the rest of the cast, making these characters feel more flesh and blood than the human characters themselves.Serkis is supported brilliantly by the likes of Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape, a former zoo ape who brings much needed levity and humour to proceedings, whilst Terry Notary as Rocket and Karin Konoval as Orangutan Maurice bring a warmth to the film, mainly through their interaction with Amiah Miller’s abandoned human girl rendered mute by the infection.
If there is a downside to the film, it’s the rendering of the human characters. The antagonistic soldiers are mostly faceless villains, and Woody Harrelson, whilst terrific in his role, is a little underwritten, nothing more than a watered-down Colonel Kurtz type figure. But those are simply nitpicks. In the end, War for the Planet of the Apes does that rare thing in studio franchise filmmaking and has delivered a third entry that tops its predecessors, delivering a highly emotional and incredibly well made blockbuster that easily stands out as one of the best of the summer.