Out of all the blockbuster series to come out in the past few years, none of them have surprised me more than the reboot of the Planet of the Apes series. When Rise of the Planet of the Apes was first announced, and when I saw the first trailer, I was not looking forward to it, it looked like a generic man tampers with nature film but was surprised to see an incredibly intelligent and thoughtful film. Dawn for the Planet of the Apes meanwhile, is probably just as good, whichever one I prefer depends on the day as both are equally good. Now though, both films have been blown out of the water by War for the Planet of the Apes, a film that reminds you just how good blockbusters can be.The film takes place a few years after the events of Dawn, with the war between humans and apes raging strong. As the apes and humans suffer heavy losses, both sides start to take more drastic actions, in particular the humans, who commit an atrocity against Caesar that leads to him taking a journey of revenge against The Colonel, the leader of the human forces in the area. Over the course of the film, events come into play that could result in the end of the war and push Caesar over the edge into darkness. Now the first thing that I need to say is that, despite the title, this isn’t really a war movie. There are only 2 action scenes in the film, at the beginning and the end, the majority of the film is a character study of Caesar and the world around him, with the war and memories of Koba haunting Caesar throughout the film. There are also interesting elements at play in terms of how the ape society has changed since Dawn, both with Caesar having full speech instead of the fractured sentences he used in Dawn and also in terms of there being Apes who have defected from Caesar and allied with the humans, with it being made clear that those apes were the allies of Koba. These elements of the film, along with new revelations about the humans that I won’t spoil here, help expand the world that we see and help to set up the world we see in the original Planet of the Apes. There also seems to be a bit of social commentary in the film, with the Colonel and his men having the look of skinheads, wanting to destroy those they believe are going to take their place which, knowing the intelligence of the series, does feel like a commentary on white supremacists.
In terms of the performances, Andy Serkis gives another stellar performance as Caesar, with this probably being his most layered performance as Caesar. Throughout the film, we see that Caesar is conflicted over his nature, whether or not he should be more peaceful or whether he should give into his more violent urges, which worries Caesar as he feels he’s becoming more like Koba. There are more elements of Serkis’ performance based on grief and pain that are incredibly powerful to see, especially in the later stages of the film. Woody Harrelson meanwhile makes a powerful impression as The Colonel, he’s not in the film long but when he is on screen you can see a sense of insanity in his eyes along with an intimidating air that lets you understand why his soldiers respect him. I won’t go into detail here, but there are other powerful elements of Harrelson’s performance in the final act of the film. Steve Zahn as Bad Ape meanwhile both brings in some much needed levity to the overall bleak atmosphere of the film and introduces some interesting aspects regarding apes that are not in Caesar’s clan, apes that were in zoos all over the country before the spread of Simian Flu at the end of Rise and who grew in intelligence but without the education that Caesar gave his apes. Karin Konoval as Maurice meanwhile is a powerful force of conscience in the film, being an effective moral voice throughout the film for Caesar, along with having good chemistry with Amiah Miller as Nova, who gives a brilliant, heartfelt performance despite not saying a word throughout the film.
On the technical side, the CG here is better than it ever has been. Every single muscle in the face of the apes can be seen here in more detail, allowing every single facet of emotion of the apes to be seen. There’s also less of a line around each of the apes that makes the CG more conspicuous, which also helps in terms of the lighting and shadows throughout the film, in particular when there’s fire on screen. There’s also great use of snow throughout the film to help the bleaker air of the film and the contrast of the dark costumes the humans wear and the dark fur of the apes against the snow helps to create some powerful shots. The action scenes, when they are in the film, are brilliantly directed, with there being a good contrast in the fighting styles of the humans and the apes, with this film once again proving how good an action director Matt Reeves is, and how The Batman is in good hands. The production design also has to be praised, in particular the hideout of the apes behind a waterfall and a human POW camp inside an old munitions warehouse/quarantine zone, with there being a fair bit of similarity between the two, which adds to the thematic weight of the film.
Overall, it’s quite difficult to review War for the Planet of the Apes right now because of how different the film in cinemas is to the film that’s been advertised. This is not a balls to the wall action film but a quiet, contemplative look at the nature of war and the impact that it has on the psyche of those who fight in it. Even to the end this has remained one of the most powerful and surprising blockbuster series in modern film and I am thankful it exists.
My Rating: 5/5