Genre: Action and Adventure
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary
Release Date: July 14th, 2017
The idea of re-imagining the Planet of the Apes series a few years ago seemed like a strange one. After the original five films (released from 1968 until 1973), two short-lived television programs, and a 2001 reboot, it seemed like the long-running franchise had passed its peak. In 2011, that idea was undercut by the release of the successful prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and completely demolished by its sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014). Now, the final chapter of this latest series has arrived and shows that this concept still has some great ideas to explore.
War for the Planet of the Apes begins by showing Army officials continuing their mission to eradicate the ape population. The war has been a long one. It began at the end of Rise and hasn’t stopped.
When we first see Caesar in this new film, he is a tormented and tired leader. Andy Serkis reprises the lead role using a method called performance capture. Even though Caesar’s exterior was computer-generated, the performance was not and Serkis delivers another brilliant performance here. The actor carries himself as a war-weary warrior tormented by what he’s witnessed and what he’s done.
Gone is the idealistic ape we first witnessed in Rise. Here is a character haunted both by war with the humans and by his own past with Koba, the rival he faced down in Dawn’s final moments. Even during moments of silence, Serkis’ portrayal captures the weariness of Caesar and the pain he carries with him like a weight that holds him down.
After a tragic attack, Caesar embarks on a journey of revenge against the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a psychotic warrior who plans to enslave the apes. Caesar partners with some of his closest allies to locate the Colonel, separating himself from his tribe. His journey finds him aligning with a naïve deaf girl named Nova (Amiah Miller) and a warm-hearted friend nicknamed Bad Ape (Steve Zahn).
The journey is a powerful one with Maurice (Karin Konoval), Caesar’s great friend, acting oftentimes as the conscience of the group. As Caesar torment turns to hatred, it’s Maurice who states the obvious: “You sound like Koba.”
When the group finally arrives at the Colonel’s facility, the feature offers a look at the hideousness of power. In scenes reminiscent of The Ten Commandments (1956), apes are enslaved and forced to work against their will. These scenes add a great emotional weight here, showing some apes being abused and tormented.
Although the ending itself (showing a climactic sequence at the facility) is a bit disappointing after all of the build-up, the feature as a whole works as a strong end to this trilogy.
Harrelson does strong work as the Colonel here and in one of the film’s best scenes, offers a compelling back story that fleshes out his character’s psychotic philosophy.
However, this trilogy has always been about Caesar’s journey and the character is given his best material here showing this fully-fleshed out warrior whose transformation (both in the trilogy and in this particular film) has been magnificent to behold. Director Matt Reeves (who directed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Let Me In) ends this story by showing that this planet of the apes concept can still surprise and entertain us.
Review by: John Hanlon