Movie Reviews

‘War For The Planet Of The Apes’ Review: The Monkeys Shine

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Quick Take: In War for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar and his group of apes come across a mad military leader bent on eradicating them, and the final battle is at hand.

We are doomed; the monkeys win. If that’s a spoiler, then you haven’t been paying attention to the Planet of the Apes film series that began back in 1968 when Charlton Heston landed back on Earth after a space mission only to find it overrun by intelligent simians. When director Rupert Wyatt rebooted the series in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, audiences were treated to a perfect marriage of technology and visual storytelling that wove a complicated, cautionary tale of science gone amok. The story continued in 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, with director Matt Reeves moving the events of ape vs. man forward, and now this trilogy ends with War for the Planet of the Apes, and in wrapping up the origin story of the highly intelligent Caesar (Andy Serkis), Reeves leaves the world decidedly different, and ready for an astronaut to come home to find things have changed.

War for the Planet of the Apes begins with human U.S. Military forces, sent by Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) coming across an encampment of apes in the woods while on patrol. The soldiers attack, but are quickly dismantled by the apes, still led by Caesar (Serkis), who also now has a family — and a plan. Caesar wants to move his group out of the woods of the pacific northwest and into a new land, free from the constant assaults of the humans that are constantly picking fights they cannot win. But Caesar has never come across a soldier like “the Colonel,” who is ruthless in his quest to end the war forever, so much so that he has gone rogue from his U.S. Military duties and will stop at nothing to ensure the apes are wiped out.

War For The Planet Of The Apes Review

When the Colonel fails to heed Caesar’s warning to stay out of the woods, and attacks Caesar’s home, the apes plan to leave and find the “promised land,” but the Colonel isn’t done, and provokes Caesar and the apes into one final conflict that will forever set in motion a Planet of the Apes.

War For The Planet Of The Apes Review

Once again, the motion capture and vocal performances by the actors playing the apes, especially Andy Serkis, are the highlight of the film. Serkis’ Caesar emotes with facial movements that are physically performed by the actor and not via CG. Caesar looks and sounds real, which is a testament to Serkis’ masterful performance and the artists who brought Caesar to life.

War For The Planet Of The Apes Review

Joining him this time out is Steve Zahn as Bad Ape, a refugee that Caesar’s group takes in on their quest to stop the Colonel. Bad Ape steals the film with his humorous lines, but Zahn’s performance is near the same level as Serkis’ and deserves as much credit. Interestingly enough, Bad Ape is also the first ape in this rebooted series to wear clothes, and his winter down coat, with its uniform ridges, actually fits into the original 1968 film’s apes’ attire, making Bad Ape almost a “bridge” character between the two time periods. And he’s not the only one, as the group also takes on a mute human girl (Amiah Miller) who they name Nova. This is presumably the same Nova played by Linda Harrison in the 1968 film.

War For The Planet Of The Apes Review

Woody Harrelson is perfectly cast as the Colonel. His out-of-his-mind decisions, and tragic backstory fuel a performance that is the perfect foil to Serkis’ Caesar, and their confrontations in the second and third acts belie a much deeper resolve at play here. I would pay to see this movie again and again just to watch these two heavyweights spar with each other in a clash of wills. This conflict, this war between two cultures, one on the way up, the other on the way down, is the centerpiece of War for the Planet of the Apes and Reeves and co-screenwriter Mark Bomback understand this completely and milk it for the fullest effect.

War For The Planet Of The Apes Review

War for the Planet of the Apes is definitely a war film, with harsh themes of death and destruction, betrayals and chess-like mental maneuvering, and the hint of hope that peace can finally be established. Reeves ends his trilogy on a very high note, evoking some biblical references and showing that the real animals here have always been the humans. It could have easily come across as heavy handed, but the filmmakers used subtlety and a deft hand to guide the film — and the series — to ensure that the audience isn’t beat over the head with the themes at play here. And that makes War for the Planet of the Apes not only the best film in the series — the whole series, dating back to 1968 — but one of the best films of 2017.

War for the Planet of the Apes is rated PG-13 and is in theaters on July 14.

SCORE: 4.9 out of 5

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