Matt Reeves’ returns to direct the third and supposed final installment in the reboot series of the Planet of the Apes films, War for the Planet of the Apes, a chaotic, emotionally heart-wrenching and beautifully story driven film. Not only that, but it is one of the most exciting movie-going experiences I have had in quite a few years.
Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe of apes are a peaceful kind, and strive to live happily in peace from the threat of human soldiers, and their impending threats. Caesar also lives with his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer), and his son Cornelius (Devyn Dalton). However, Caesar’s family life is put to a halt when Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) and his army of troops invade the apes’ home and slaughters his wife and son. Apoplectic with these events, Caesar leads Maurice (Karin Konoval), Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), Nova (Amiah Miller) and the rest of his teammates on a path of revenge to obliterate Colonel McCullough and the rest of his warriors for good.
In terms of the previous films in the Planet of the Apes series, I thoroughly enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as well as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This new film welcomes back Andy Serkis as Caesar, our lead hero throughout all three of these films. Although proven before, Serkis truly shines as Caesar in particular in War for the Planet of the Apes as he is the most gritty and ruthless the ape has ever been. Not to mention, the motion-capture work on all the apes is seamless, and appears to be real. There were numerous occasions while viewing this film where I was questioning how the team behind the film did such a marvelous job.
An amazing aspect that is heavily present in this film that was not shown as detailed previously, is that Caesar feels like he is a hardened and ferocious warrior, and one not to fear with. Just by simply gazing at his eyes, you can feel the fire and the rage in his eyes, after seeing his family get slaughtered. One of Caesar’s fellow companions on his vengeful path of revenge to kill McCullough is Maurice, returning from the previous two episodes. Once again, this character is a very easy-going, yet never stale character that always adds emotional weight to the film in very unexpected ways.
Woody Harrelson also does a triumphant job portraying Caesar’s nemesis, Colonel McCullough. Just by giving the man a quick gander for the first time, I instantly wanted Caesar to succeed in his journey to destroy him. His character is given a surprising and wild backstory that left me shocked, and added more weight to his character as the film progressed. The Colonel leads a faculty full of his soldiers where they keep many apes captive for good, and force them to do excruciatingly painful work. While watching scenes in the faculty and seeing dozens of innocent apes kept in cages, I began to quickly grow sympathy for every ape in the film, and wanted them all to escape.
War for the Planet of the Apes pulls no punches as it is a depressing story that will leave everybody feeling glum. I was constantly invested in where the story was headed, and how Caesar and his band of apes where going to plan their next step to try and have their retaliation fulfilled. On top of all these aspects, the film adds a pleasant amount of action that was woven perfectly into the film at just the necessary scenes. There was not even a dull scene in the film, even though a large portion of it is silent, as we see Caesar and the other apes using sign language with the assistance of subtitles for the viewers to read what their conversations are. I found this to be riveting, as it seemed like something that was real.
Rarely is the third movie in a trilogy the best out of them all, but in the case of War for the Planet of the Apes, it candidly is. With a tear-jerking story filled with tons of great character development, perfect mixtures of action, and buildup, every element of the film worked perfectly.
Overall Grade: A+
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Running Time: 140 minutes