Apes, together, strong. Apes, together on screen, one of the best motion picture trilogies of all time. Matt Reeves took over this franchise after the immensely successful Rise of the Planet of the Apes and ran with it. There is so much emotion in this film it hit me the whole way home after seeing it. War for the Planet of the Apes takes this conflict to new and soaring levels of storytelling not often found in blockbuster filmmaking. War is one of the best films of the year and it is certainly the strongest of what will indeed go down as one of the best trilogies ever.
So much of War is the emotional culmination of everything Caesar (Andy Serkis) has gone through. It is his revenge, it is his conclusion, but on his own terms. The film cleverly recaps the action of the previous two films to set the stage for a movie that is unrelenting from the beginning. Reeves sets the stakes from the outset and shows, without telling us, how Koba (the radical ape from the trilogies second entry Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) has effected Ceasar’s mindset. Maurice the orangutan even points this out to some extent during the film.
Rage has consumed Caesar and he sets out to find the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) who has inflicted terrible damage among the ape community. Caesar wants peace, and in the film, he extends the olive branch to the Colonel and can’t understand why it wasn’t accepted. Caesar even tells soldiers, he did not start this war. However, he appears intent on ending it. Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is full on Apocalypse Now. Reeves puts some references to that movie as well throughout this one. The Colonel is ruthless, menacing and desperate in ways that make this movie so unique. It’s a wonderful performance from the always great veteran actor.
Reeves masterfully shoots this film, most of the time in extreme close up. While it is packed with some thrilling action sequences like any blockbuster, Reeves somehow is able to make War, much like he did with Dawn, a personal story. The inner conflict Caesar has can simply be seen by the expression in his eyes, an aspect Serkis is so good portraying. Koba has imposed psychological damage to Caesar. Ape not kill ape, that’s the creed the apes live by. In a sense, Caesar realizes that maybe Koba was right all along. Are humans irredeemable? Are they inherently cruel and vindictive? The humans, as made clear by Rise and Dawn, don’t know what to think about the ape takeover. As humans, our natural instinct is to fight back. Imperialism and its stamp on American history is largely to blame for that. Apes want peace, and simply put, they want to be left alone to raise their society.
This film wasn’t pieced together by a studio because they needed to fill a tentpole spot in the summer months. Rather, it is crafted, personally, by Reeves. He leaves a piece of himself stamped on this movie. The visual effects are stunning, and because of that, you get the real feeling that your watching apes. In fact, it doesn’t dawn on you that until after the credits roll, you had a real, deeply emotional connection, with an ape. Reeves also deftly balances some interesting parallels to Christianity that adds another level of depth to War that is unseen in the previous two installments.
We never know who’s side to take. It’s a no win situation. In the war between apes and humanity, Reeves pulls the strings to make it clear, both are doing what they can to survive. Yet, the audience, in large part due to Serkis’ performance, sides with ape. There are points in the movie where I thought, yeah, humans would really do this apes.
Michael Giacchino’s score is mesmerizing. It isn’t overly bombastic or over the top heroic. The tone of his score perfectly match the events on happening on screen and never overshadows them. The cinematography and shot selections by Reeves and company are fantastic. It is a nearly flawless film with a consistent pace that makes 140 minutes fly right by.
War, much like Rise and Dawn, are complex stories covering some thought provoking themes. You can expect the inter-species harmony angle is played quite a bit, but it isn’t used cheaply. If you have not seen the first two entries of this series, don’t see this one until you have. You won’t feel the gravitas and the weight of these characters decisions, without experiencing what they’ve gone through up until this point. It is a breathtaking conclusion to a series that will be long remembered in cinema history as one of its best. Apes, together, strong. Apes, finishes, impeccably.