Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Action, Thematic Elements, and some Disturbing Images
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer & Terry Notary
2011’s RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was far better than anyone could have expected it to be. This primate-filled prequel wasn’t perfect, but it served as a solid origin story for the ape revolution and left the door wide open for a potentially superior sequel. 2014’s DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES blew RISE out of the water on every conceivable level. This sequel to the prequel was action-packed, had a lot on its mind, and things were again left open for another installment. It’s 2017 and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is hitting theaters. Rest assured, WAR is bleak, depressing, emotional and brilliantly executed. Who knew that a PLANET OF THE APES prequel trilogy would wind up being one of the best movie trilogies of our time?
After Koba’s attack and subsequent defeat in DAWN, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his herd of intelligent apes have been hiding from military forces for two years. Things seem relatively peaceful until a band of human soldiers accidentally stumble across their fortress. An attack is made and Caesar suffers a devastating loss. Driven by revenge, Caesar vows to kill The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a crazed military leader who’s taken up residence in a well-guarded military base. On his journey, Caesar is warned by the few companions that accompany him that he’s in danger of becoming like Koba. All the while, the fate of ape kind and the human race hangs in the balance.
I tried to keep my plot synopsis as vague as possible, because WAR throws a lot of unexpected twists and turns at the viewer. The less you know, the more shocked you’ll be. Needless to say that director/co-writer Matt Reeves and writer Mark Bomback have found intelligent ways to tie WAR into the rest of the ape-pocalypse mythos. You might have the urge to go watch the 1968 original after this film has concluded, because Reeves and co. do such a masterful job of tying everything up in believable ways.
Though the APES films have previously wowed moviegoers with their effects by creating real-looking primates from computer graphics and motion capture performances, WAR is the peak of these special effects thus far. To say that this movie looks incredible is an understatement. Your eyes will be fooled into thinking that a chimpanzee is walking, talking, fighting, and killing. It certainly helps that Andy Serkis delivers his best performance yet as complex chimpanzee protagonist Caesar, with tons of emotion and a huge story arc to either overcome or be corrupted by. I know it’s cliché to say at this point (especially regarding this series), but Serkis more than deserves an Academy Award.
As supporting apes, Karin Konoval (playing orangutan Maurice) and Terry Notary (playing chimp Rocket) are especially great this time around. Steve Zahn (as a newcomer chimp nicknamed “Bad Ape”) delivers much-needed comic relief that never detracts from the story’s bleakness and emotional rollercoaster. WAR is very much the apes story because there are only two noteworthy human characters. Woody Harrelson plays the insane Colonel, who seems to be drawing inspiration from APOCALYPSE NOW’s Colonel Kurtz and also serving his own unique brand of evil driven by complex motivations. WAR’s most impressive newcomer is child actor Amiah Miller who plays Maurice’s adopted mute human daughter Nova. Without a single word of spoken dialogue, Miller conveys everything her character is feeling and will likely make you tear up during two of the film’s most emotional moments.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES appropriately nails the feeling of a depressing war film, but with apes as the main characters. I caught hints of THE GREAT ESCAPE (which were intentional), alongside universal themes that can be seen in other war stories and (even) biblical epics. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES does what all great science fiction has managed to do and talks about complex real-life concepts through a fictional disguise. Yes, it’s a film about an ape trying to get revenge on an insane military commander, but it’s also about so much more than that. I don’t want to go into specifics for fear of spoiling some of the many emotions you’ll feel, but WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES made me cry, laugh, cheer, and sit in stunned silence. I’ve also been thinking about it for hours on end since watching it.
WAR is easily the most mature entry in a series that was already skilled at crafting smart, adult-aimed summer blockbusters. Action, explosions, and sheer spectacle mean so much more when there are well-developed characters, deep themes, and honest emotions carefully placed into them. No hyperbole whatsoever, I rank WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES alongside THE DARK KNIGHT and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD as one of the best 21st century summer blockbusters thus far. If you liked or loved the other APES movies, you’ll adore this one. It’s not just a great installment in one of the best trilogies to ever hit the silver screen, it’s an all-around phenomenal cinematic creation!