The “Planet of the Apes” franchise that was resurrected in 2011 concludes in marvelous fashion with “War for the Planet of the Apes.” This recent installment isn’t just one of the best movies of this summer, but one of the best films of the entire year so far.
The film’s setting is 15 years after the initial incident where the leader Caesar led a group of intelligent apes away from San Francisco to create their own home. Through a series of events since then, especially those that took place in the 2014 picture, the apes are now in a battle for survival with the remnants of human military personnel.
The film picks up with Caesar (Andy Serkis) extending the olive branch to the military, with the hope that peace can be reached. However, it’s soon learned by Caesar that it’s impossible after the military, led by a man simply known as Colonel (Woody Harrelson), strikes with a devastating attack on the apes’ home. As a result Caesar goes on a quest for revenge while also trying to ensure his peoples’ survival.
Just like its predecessors, “War” is a smart, emotionally charged piece of cinema, offering both thrilling action sequences and moments that embrace its science fiction background with dialogue that explores humanity’s dealings with nature. This all takes place along a well-structured, slow burning type of story.
There are many points where the movie lingers, with long takes and in-depth bits of dialogue, allowing the audience to really absorb all that’s going on and keep the emotional weight at the forefront. The story also nicely ties together many subplots into Caesar’s character arc in the film.
From start to finish, the film explores Caesar’s leadership, his hatred toward the Colonel and its subsequent effect on how he views the rest of humanity. The audience is shown how Caesar has to deal with this anger with the introduction of a young girl named Nova (Amiah Miller). Again, just like “Rise” and “Dawn,” “War for the Planet of the Apes” is largely a character piece mixed with a sci-fi/action epic.
One of the things that makes Caesar such a compelling character to watch is because of Andy Serkis’ brilliant acting through the use of performance-capture technology. The facial movements and mannerisms appear so lifelike and make Caesar a very endearing figure. Serkis’ performance also compliments how the character was written, as Caesar has been created to be a very likable, relatable being. He has such an incredible temperament, being strong, wise and caring all at the same time, that he’s very easy to rally behind and root for.
The rest of the cast that used the performance-capture technology to play the apes also did a fantastic job. Many of them only communicate through sign language and it’s incredible how smoothly the dialogue flows. For example, Caesar’s conversations with his second in command Maurice (Karin Konoval) always feel natural and never stiff or artificial. It’s a testament to the writing, acting and the technology all being used to the highest degree.
Credit also has to go to Woody Harrelson, who plays a phenomenal villain as the Colonel. Harrelson gives his character a menacing persona, complete with a cold personality and a thousand yard stare. What’s especially good about the character is that the movie gives him some depth and background to where he doesn’t seem as one dimensional as he does at first in the movie.
The film does feature very impressive moments of action, too. However, while the film is called “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the action is a bit light and certainly isn’t the focal point of the picture. In fact, at many points in the picture, especially during the film’s climax, the apes are simply trying to survive, rather than get into any major confrontations with the military.
The third film in this phenomenal trilogy takes place in a cold, bleak, winter setting and explores many hardships and difficulties. Yet, with Caesar leading the way, there’s a sense of optimism and hope, too. In the end, it’s a moving, powerful work of art that will leave you feeling something at the end. 5 out of 5.