I have never been a fan of Planet of the Apes, but I found myself being quite excited for the third installment in director Matt Reeves’ trilogy. With a very different vibe than the other two films, War for the Planet of the Apes definitely lives up to its name. This third film wraps up the continuous storyline with some surprises and enough suspense to keep audiences on their toes for the duration of the film. War is a darker film that shows the darker sides of humanity, disease, and Caesar’s inner confliction. It is the highlight of the franchise and a really solid film all around that should make any Apes hater into a lover.
War continues a few years from where Dawn of the Planet of the Apes left off and with the same story of the army coming to San Francisco from the north. Caesar (Andy Serkis) has been in hiding while the crazy Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and his Alpha-Omega squad are hunting down the colony of apes. The apes are simply trying to survive in the woods of northern California and are living peacefully there. The humans, who really don’t have a purpose in attacking the apes, are the ones who are disrupting the peace this time around. While in the past films there have been very likable human characters, it is hard to empathize, support, or even understand the motivation of the humans in War.
Obviously, the apes fight back when attacked, which leads to the brute violence, chaos, and destruction of the film. There are plenty of really good action scenes that are beautifully shot, edited, and written throughout the film. One of the best parts of the film is the wonderful cinematography of the snowy mountain locations. It was brilliant to bring the action out of the woods and into a new environment that must have been incredibly tough to film in and CGI over. However, it is the biggest plus of the film because it is exciting to see the apes in new terrain and how they react to other settings. The new sets also allow for bigger and bolder action, which can never be a negative.
As in the previous installments, the script is written in a way that having minimal dialogue is more powerful than lots of big speeches. The way the story fleshes out enhances the performances of the actors and almost forces them to give the best emotional acting of their careers. War is huge on emotions, and the emotional drive of the characters is the heartbeat of the film. It is amazing to watch such deep, emotional performances play out through the apes. I also really enjoyed the use of American Sign Language as the main source of dialogue, which is one of the highlights of the franchise in my opinion.
Caesar’s personal journey is the centerpiece of the film. As the Colonel reminds the audience, Caesar has always been very emotionally charged, and his emotions usually tend to get the best of him. Serkis was phenomenal once again in the role and manages to bring another side to the character with each Apes film. Caesar’s hatred is balanced well with the confliction of turning into Koba, who he killed at the end of Dawn. Unfortunately, all of the apes are still paying the price for Koba’s mistakes.
There is also a really nice juxtaposition between a new mutated strain of the Simian Flu virus breaking out and the insanity of both Caesar and the Colonel. The new strain reverts humans back to their primitive form and has no effect on the apes. The only real problem I had with the film is the fact that the mutated Simian Flu virus doesn’t have the same effects in the same time frame on infected people. For instance, there is a little girl who seems to have the virus for a good amount of time and only loses the ability to speak, while some of the infected soldiers lose their speech, minds, and some motor abilities within a few hours. This was slightly confusing, but it was forgivable.
War is a really good film from start to end. There aren’t many dull moments or things that could have been done better. The story isn’t predictable, the action is really entertaining, and the characters are more endearing. The direction and cinematography are excellent, as is all of the acting. Serkis and Harrelson deserve some praise for their fantastic work. As someone who never cared for Apes, I really liked this film and can imagine how excited fans will be when seeing all of the references and action.
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