FILM REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes

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Directed by MATT REEVES
Starring ANDY SERKIS, WOODY HARRELSON, STEVE ZAHN, AMIAH MILLER, TERRY NOTARY, JUDY GREER, KARIN KONOVAL

Rebooting the Planet of the Apes series has led to three incredible films, with each instalment better than the one before it. These movies tell the story of Caesar, the leader of a genetically enhanced anthropomorphic clan of apes. Played by Andy Serkis through motion capture, Caesar is the heart and soul of the series and Serkis’s portrayal of his emotions is what makes the character so captivating.

The first film Rise of the Planet of the Apes explored the relationship between humans and animals, and how science has consequences, both good and bad. Caesar is enhanced and raised almost like a human. Despite a loving upbringing, his anger at the treatment of himself after entering captivity pushes him and other apes to start an uprising while the virus that enhances the apes becomes a deadly killer to humans. What made this story so interesting is that a few decisions and actions by a small selection of people lead to almost the entirety of planet Earth’s human population being wiped out.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes centered on themes such as tribalism, race, betrayal and the lust for power as Caesar tries to prevent both a war with humans and a civil war within his ranks. Caesar learns the hard way that apes can do awful things, just like humans.

In trilogy-closer War for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar is not only at war with his desire for revenge, but war is happening all around him as he clashes with humans for control of the planet. Family, forgiveness, mercy, morals, revenge and survival are the key themes of the movie.

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At the beginning of War, Caesar wants to avoid fighting with humans to avoid casualties, but after the Colonel of a military faction called AlphaOmega attacks the apes, a grieving Caesar wants blood.

The Colonel is played by Woody Harrelson. The Colonel is the main antagonist, with the aim to wipe out apes and have humans control the planet again.

The clear difference between Caesar and The Colonel is the scope of their drives and ambitions. Caesar simply wants revenge on The Colonel and to protect his ape community, whereas The Colonel wants the human race to control the world again. It’s not personal for The Colonel, but it is for Caesar, and clashing with him is where Caesar starts experiencing horrible consequences. Will Caesar ultimately get his revenge, and will the hatred make him no less than the villain from the last movie, Koba, who wanted revenge and death on all humans.

This is a true war movie because the motivations of these characters are fleshed out and don’t simply sit on a “Good/Evil” scale, acknowledging the reality that war is complicated.

Harrelson portrays The Colonel as a man who will do terrible things to succeed, but he believes what he’s doing is morally right for humankind. He’s not just driven by greed and self-interest, he thinks he’s doing it for the greater good, which is why he tries to justify it to Caesar, asking him what he would do in this situation.

The special effects and the motion capture is better than ever. At times there are so many apes on screen, but the visuals never failed. The cinematography was top notch, with various kinds of shots create a sense of scale and affect the tension. Speaking of tension, the score by Michael Giacchino was fantastic – not just during tense dialogue and action sequences, but also during the quiet, playful scenes, especially with Nova (Amiah Miller), the young girl discovered by Caesar’s party who can’t speak.

Karin Konoval, left, and Amiah Miller in Twentieth Century Fox's "War for the Planet of the Apes."

Karin Konoval, left, and Amiah Miller in Twentieth Century Fox’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

And if that wasn’t enough, the movie has incredible action scenes shot incredibly well. The movie also moves at a perfect pace; each scene and line of dialogue has its place and purpose and it doesn’t drag on.

Much of the movie is scenes featuring apes interacting with each other, often just with sign language, and it just works. Caesar has become more human-like with each movie, both in the way he moves and the way he talks. The apes have personalities too, such as Maurice (Karin Konoval) who is malevolent and connects very well with others. There’s also finally a comic relief character in the franchise with Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who seems to act even more human-like than Caesar.

Once the film started I couldn’t look away. Seriously. There’s not a single scene or line of dialogue that felt unnecessary. Director Matt Reeves has paced and edited this movie perfectly. It’s a masterpiece.

I loved this movie. It’s the best of the reboot trilogy, which is incredible considering the bar set by its predecessors. Andy Serkis’s performance as Caesar should be the standard that every motion capture actor should use as a reference, because it’s just that good. There’s already been a ton of sequels and franchise entries this year that it almost creates a feeling of oversaturation, but War for the Planet of the Apes is such a well made feature that it absolutely deserves a viewing this winter.

Words by Stefan Bradley.


War for the Planet of the Apes opens in Australian cinemas on July 27.