Like many people, I remember watching Planet of the Apes as a child. It was an incredible movie, exploring racial tension and what it means to be human within the context of a science fiction film. The sequels were decent but lacked the full impact of the original and Tim Burton’s remake wasn’t any better. Then along came Rise of the Planet of the Apes and it blew me away, not only with the technology but the story it told. Now here we are at the third in the new reboot series, War for the Planet of the Apes. It is just as outstanding as the other two before it and brings the prequels to a stunning, beautiful resolution that I don’t think can be equaled.
The story begins with explosive action, a war between humans and apes with Caesar (Andy Serkis) in hiding. A group of soldiers are hunting the apes and searching for him. They are assisted by traitors, apes who turned during the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The group that the humans are hunting turn the tables on them and a group of soldiers are captured, only to find Caesar in charge. Caesar decides to release a few as a message for the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). War might be inevitable but Caesar wishes for peace.
After the battle, his son Blue Eyes returns to the camp and shares that there may be a safe place for the apes to live but to do so, they will have to pass through the army of humans. Caesar thinks it’s risky but it may be their only hope to survive. That night, the Colonel launches a sneak attack on the apes. After unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his anger and desire for revenge, leaving his people to hunt down the Colonel. While he seeks vengeance, his people search for safe haven.
Caesar wants to go alone but his friends insist on going with him, Maurice (Karin Konoval) fearing that he won’t survive without them. As they follow the path of the soldiers, they discover a small girl, Nova (Amiah Miller) who cannot speak. Caesar wants to leave her, uncaring of anything but his mission. Maurice cannot leave her, fearing for her survival and his compassion convinces Caesar to allow her to join them. They soon discover others like the girl and when they locate the Colonel and his men, they find out that humanity will soon cease to exist due to a mutation of the Simian virus. The Colonel will do anything to keep humanity alive. Caesar must let go of his hatred and revenge, help his people to escape or humanity will wipe them away once and for all.
What elevates this movie is the exploration of anger and the struggle against hatred or those who are different. This is a powerful example of what the science fiction genre can be, exploring such powerful topics within the framework of an imaginary world. What makes War for the Planet of the Apes particularly strong is the progression of logic that allows for the viewer to believe all of this is possible. While I’m no scientist, most of the facts presented in the film are believable. I can buy that the virus has mutated and now affects the higher brain functions and the language centers of humans. The logic and believability is what helps you to see how we might create a world where apes are in charge and ties perfectly back to the sixties movie.
The writing is so interconnected. This movie gave me the chance to see the overall picture and how tightly each of the other two movies is connected both within the trilogy and back to the first Planet of the Apes film. The transitions from Rise of the Planet of the Apes to War are almost seamless and a wonderful balance is maintained within the films. The first movie begins with most of the film told from the human’s point of view. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a division between the apes and the humans. In this third installment, most of the story is told from the Apes point of view.
War for the Planet of the Apes is fraught with tension, the pacing ratcheting up and the apes set up to be the protagonists, to have the viewer rooting for them. Each time there was a turning point in the film, I could see it coming but because it was foreshadowed and connected to events earlier in the film and to the growth of Caesar’s character, it made sense and didn’t detract from the story. There are also some tender and emotional scenes between Caesar’s character and his children that build an empathy and love for the apes. Maurice’s character compassion is used as a turning point in the film and his scenes with Nova are poignant and beautiful. I love the little touches harkening back to the original sixties movie. Caesar’s second son is named Cornelius. Nova was the name of a human. These little elements add a beautiful homage to that first movie but are still subtle and stay true to the story being told on screen.
Without the brilliant CGI and special effects, this movie and the previous ones would not work. The makeup effects allow the actors playing the apes to emote and create believable profiles. Beyond the special effects, it is the acting that conveys the emotions, the actors underneath that give us powerful and enduring performances. Andy Serkis’ eyes and face even with makeup allow us to see the rage and conflict within the character of Caesar, his pain over his losses and desire for revenge. His acting elevates the film beyond a simple genre film. Maurice is equally strong, emotional, wise, and compassionate as he aids Nova. Amiah Miller as Nova uses facial gestures and physical action to convey her point of view and allow us to emotionally connect with her, silence as powerful as the actors with speaking parts, the director talented to bring that kind of nuanced performance from such a young child. Woody Harrelson allows us to visualize both the humans need to survive as well as his madness and brutality. These performances are the best part of the movie, engaging the viewers with the story and deeply sympathetic.
There are few points at the beginning that I failed to follow, a small amount of disconnect but I was quickly engaged in the story and entertained throughout. There are also inevitable moments, foreshadowed from the beginning of the film that I was able to predict. While it didn’t keep me from enjoying the movie, it does make the ending a bit predictive and most viewers will figure out the ending.
I loved this film. If you’ve enjoyed the other two films in the series, if you’re a fan of the original film, you will thoroughly connect to War for the Planet of the Apes. The acting is beautiful and full of depth. The pacing and action will keep you engaged while the story might bring you to tears. I was rooting for the Apes and blown away by the emotionality of the film, the themes of slavery, survival, and the struggle to overcome our darker emotions that this movie explores. While you might come for the action, it is the acting and the drama of the story that will keep you glued to your seat.
Rating: 5 stars
In War for the Planet of the Apes, the third chapter of the critically acclaimed blockbuster franchise, Caesar and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel. 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 their species and the future of the planet.
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval & Terry Notary
Director: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves