By Thomas Griffiths
War for the Planet of the Apes is directed by Matt Reeves and stars Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Amiah Miller, Steve Zahn and Karin Konoval. This is the third entry into the Planet of the Apes reboot series, and it surrounds the brutal war between the supremely intelligent apes and the humans. Rise of the Planet of the Apes focused on the origins of Caesar (played by Andy Serkis) and how he became the leader of the apes; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes focused on the aftermath of the rise of the ape population, and how both the humans and the apes were torn apart from the inside; War for the Planet of the Apes continues on from its predecessor by depicting an absolute battle for survival by the humans and the apes. I’ve loved the previous two instalments in this series, and had high expectations for this film in particular, and leaving the cinema after seeing this film, I was stunned.
First off, Andy Serkis, even by his own incredible standards, is amazing in this movie. He continues to give an absolutely riveting performance as Caesar that makes his character so painfully realistic that you can’t help but side with him. Andy Serkis has given several awesome performances in the past, but here I can’t help but be blown away by how good he is. The writers for this film give Caesar an extremely interesting story arc that intertwines with the battle between the apes and the humans, and you really get the sense that, even though Caesar is the leader of his race, he is an increasingly complicated person. Woody Harrelson plays the main antagonist in this film, the Colonel, and he is absolutely brilliant as well. The rivalry that erupts between these two characters is one of the most compelling factors in the film, since they both are fighting for the survival of their people and come into conflict as a result in such a way that you get the sense that it’s all about these two and their battle for dominance. However, it isn’t – it’s actually about the apes and humans as a whole, and the reasons and possibilities behind that.
The themes of this film really give special significance to what happens – these themes include revenge, regret, survival and sacrifice, and they almost come together ingeniously well. The theme of revenge surrounds Caesar and how the Colonel damages his colony and family so badly that Caesar becomes fixated on retribution upon the Colonel. The theme of survival that resonates throughout the film, as well as sacrifice, affects both races, since the apes are struggling to outpace the humans, who are themselves starting to suffer from a disease that threatens to reduce them to savages. The build-up to the latter factor of the film is extremely clever in my opinion, what with the introduction of Nova, played by Amiah Miller, who is also very good and a great presence in this film despite the fact that she doesn’t have a single line of dialogue in this entire film. What is explored excellently in this movie is the way that Caesar threatens to become almost as ruthless and terrible as the people he has fought against since the first film.
The action sequences throughout the film are completely riveting, and feel like they are utterly necessary to progress the plot: ranging from the incredible opening sequence that shows us how the humans have advanced in terms of strategy and methods in this war, and how the apes have suffered since the last film, in which an ape called Koba split their population apart and even turned some apes into allies for the humans. There are several action sequences in this film, ranging from chase sequences to all-out battles, to natural disasters (including one particularly awesome disaster that happens at the climax of the film), and what I was impressed by was the fact that there is a lot of space between these sequences, in which there are several character moments and scenes where you actually come to appreciate how far the apes have come. These spaces between the action sequences could have been a flaw in the film, if they hadn’t felt utterly necessary.
By far, the most momentous surprise in this entire film is Steve Zahn as Bad Ape. Bad Ape is an ape who doesn’t belong to the colony originally, and is living alone in the wilderness trying to survive the war between the humans and apes, and he offers a lot of levity to the film which could have otherwise been a massive letdown that derailed the serious and realistic tone of the film. However, I really liked his character in this film, and he was a great asset to the film alongside Amiah Miller. In fact, every actor who portrayed the apes did a phenomenal job in their own right, and the special effects team behind the production of this film must receive major praise because there wasn’t a single scene in this film where I thought I was looking at a CGI ape. Everything in this film looked real, and there are sequences in this film where I was clutching the arms of my seat because there was such tension created and such excitement, and in one particular action sequence early into the film where we first meet the Colonel where I was transfixed. The climax of this movie, without spoiling anything, is so exciting that I found myself covering my mouth with my hands at some points. The final confrontation between the Colonel and Caesar (without spoiling anything) is such scene.
What interested me the most is how much significance was afforded to the other apes who are essentially side-characters in the previous films – Maurice, Rocket, Cornelius and even the newcomer Red, who has several tense scenes with Caesar. Maurice in particular continued to accentuate the friendship between him and Caesar, which felt very real and authentic from my perspective. My only flaw with the film at the start was the lack of character development, compared with the substantial amount of anticipation, added to the Colonel, but that flaw was quickly put to rest during one of the several showdowns between the Colonel and Caesar – I have to say, these two actors were the highlights of the film, and in their scenes together both actors really solidified the similarities and differences between them.
In the end, War for the Planet of the Apes is the best instalment in the series in my opinion, because it builds upon its predecessors and instead of relying completely upon them. If you watched these three films in succession, it would feel like a progressing story on its own and this film in particular gives an excellent sense of relevance to the previous films as a result – the events of the predecessors do contribute to this film, but at the same time this film has a compelling story on its own. Matt Reeves did a great job directing this film, as did the great Michael Giacchino, who composed the enthralling score for the movie that added so much to it.
Go see this film as soon as you can, I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.