Director Matt Reeves rounds out the modern Planet of the Apes film series with a blockbuster unlike anything you’d expect, for better or worse.
In War for the Planet of the Apes, the enhanced-ape tribe leader Caesar (Andy Serkis), is still defending his group from the human forces sent out to kill them once and for all. When things turn really bad for Caesar, he’s forced to go against his nature and seek out the humans that have wronged him, with potentially dire consequences for himself and his tribe.
This third film in the series directly follows on from the plot of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), and it sees a new military group out to hunt them down, led by their psychotic leader The Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson, who channels his inner sociopath here to convey a composed, menacing, and imposing character, fitting enough to stand side-by-side next to some of the similarly characterised apes in the film. His character is the dark to Caesar’s light, yet both face an internal struggle that challenges the justifications of their actions, be it morally wrong, or right. Both Harrelson and Serkis deliver their performances with a significant poise, assumed by those with leadership qualities. Special props must be given to Serkis here also, whom after three movies in a mo-cap suit, behind a bevy of visual effects, manages to make Caesar feel more believable than some human actors can of their characters – there is really no one else like him in this particular department of acting.
Furthermore on the visual effects front, War for the Planet of the Apes can, and should easily be considered groundbreaking. After seeing what is achieved in this film, it’s fair to say that War now sets the new benchmark of what visual effects teams can do, to bring to life the imaginations of a film’s writers and directors, in an extremely believable fashion.
Performances and effect aside, where the film really shines is in its tone and story. It’s part family-drama, part revenge-movie, part road-trip movie and part prison-break movie. What it’s not, is a balls-to-the-wall action epic, which may come as a bit of a shock to some. War has a bit of action at the start and at the end of the film, but for the big chunk in between those set pieces, the film plays out like a hard drama with underlying sci-fi elements, reminiscent of epic dramas from Hollywood’s past. More specifically, the tone is closer to that of the original Planet of the Apes (1968) film, as opposed to any other film in the new Apes series, or really any other blockbuster of recent times. It’s essentially an anti-blockbuster, blockbuster, and it works really well.
This lack of action however may be displeasing to some, and going in without that knowledge may catch viewers off-guard, potentially lessening the experience. There are moments in the film where you wish there would be an explosive set piece to break up, what some may consider, the monotonous pace of the film. While it would have been nice to have that extra action set-piece, the action-spectacle element is clearly not what the filmmakers were aiming for in this film, and it’s genius because of that. Along with that, some of the new characters the film introduces feel under-explored, kind of like they’ve been added to the story for the sake of it. Couple that with a few plot-holes, and some viewers might not buy what Reeves and his team are trying to sell in War for the Planet of the Apes.
While the film isn’t perfect, it’s easily a breath of fresh air compared to what we’re used to seeing come out during the summer-blockbuster period. The film has a lasting, classic narrative that, much like its 1968 predecessor, should stand the test of time.
The Orangutan played by Karin Konoval is named Maurice. In Planet of the Apes (1968), the Orangutan, Dr. Zaius, is played by actor Maurice Evans.