War for the Planet of the Apes is the third in what could arguably by described as the best trilogy since Lord of The Rings (ironically, both heavily featuring Andy Serkis and his spectacular work in a motion capture suit). Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Let Me In, Cloverfield) has consistently delivered stellar work in genre fiction, helping to elevate the films he’s directed above audience expectations, and War for the Planet of the Apes is no exception. It rounds out a significant cinematic franchise and leaves thoroughly excited for what the Matt Reeves directed The Batman will bring to the DCEU.
My issue with War for the Planet of the Apes isn’t with the film itself, it’s with the marketing campaign. Whilst I think the final instalment of this trilogy is exceptional, from both a story telling perspective and a technical standpoint, the “war” in War for the Planet of the Apes is not quite as explosive as one would have expected. The effects of war are certainly felt throughout the film, but the action-packed trailers sporting tanks and explosions and huge garrisons of soldiers weren’t really in the film until the last 5-10 minutes. For the film itself, I think this worked spectacularly well. You got a real insight into the mind of Woody Harrelson’s (No Country for Old Men, True Detective, The Hunger Games) Colonel, and a fantastic juxtaposition of humans as animals and animals as humans. But for a release in the heat of the American summer? With audience expectations set as a great spectacle piece? This might fall short of expectations, and hurt the box office significantly, for a film that really should be getting seen by everyone who can.
What’s not to be understated in the apes films, are the performances given by every. Single. Actor. Yes, Andy Serkis is the godfather of motion capture performances. He’s not just Caesar in all three new Planet of the Apes films, he’s Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, he’s Snoke from the current Star Wars episodic trilogy, he’s Kong in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, he’s been pioneering the art of motion capture for over 16 years, but it’s not just Serkis that brings this fantastic marriage of both computer generated images and physical acting to life, it’s the thousands upon thousands of artists who work to create a trilogy of films filled predominantly with talking apes, that have you completely believing they’re actually talking apes. In addition to Serkis, there’s an abundance of actors who’ve lent their physical and vocal talents to this motion capture heavy franchise, including Karin Konoval (2012, Lucifer) as Maurice, Terry Notary (Kong: Skull Island, Warcraft: The Beginning, Avengers: Infinity War) as Rocket, Judy Greer (Ant-Man, Jurassic World, Archer) as Cornelia, and Toby Kebbell (Warcraft: The Beginning, Ben-Hur, Black Mirror) as Koba, all reprised their various simian roles. Newcomers Woody Harrelson and Amiah Miller (Lights Out, MacGyver, Best Friends Whenever) are our token humans, much in the same way that James Franco and Jason Clarke were in the previous two films. But a real stand out, for treading a line that could easily have gone Jar Jar Binksy, but instead turned out more Gollum and Dobby like, is Steve Zahn’s (Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Fantastic, Happy Texas) Bad Ape, who provided comedic tones the former two apes films in this franchise didn’t quite reach, whilst remaining in tone with the overall film. All of these actors and everyone who helped behind the scenes in bringing these characters to life should be commended on their remarkable work in pushing technology forward, and giving audiences a new, insightful and thought provoking franchise that speaks to the power genre cinema, and science fiction in particular, has.
War for the Planet of the Apes is ultimately, a conclusion to the story of Caesar. It rounds out his journey, over the course of these three films, whilst also thematically highlight his humanity, causing the audience to really question what it means to be human, and to what extend we see humanity in the world around us. There’s a brilliant scene where a large group of soldiers are cheering and hollering at their Colonel, and all of a sudden the penny drops, that not only has Reeves highlighted the apes as incredibly human-like, but also that the humans are incredibly ape-like. We are reminded how much we’re simply animals, playing at a bigger game in a cosmic universe.
Furthermore, it’s not simply a case of apes are good, humans are bad, but a reminder (once again) of the complexity of these situations, following up with the apes who followed Koba from the previous film, and showing different factions of humans within the post-apocalyptic world Reeve’s created.
All in all, War for the Planet of the Apes is an above average film in an above average franchise which has consistently striven for new depths and thoughtful insight, rather than simply relying on spectacle. Do go watch it, watch all of them, and marvel at the quality of film making that’s possible in today’s day and age.