MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action/ Stars: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Toby Kebbell, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite, Ty Olsson, Devyn Dalton, Sara Canning, Aleks Paunovic, Amiah Miller, Max Lloyd-Jones/Runtime: 140 minutes
I think it is safe to start this review off by saying that a long time ago when Rise of the Planet of the Apes was first revealed to be in the works, I honestly do not think any single person out there could have even remotely predicted (probably due to the sting wound from Tim Burton’s 2001 take still being a sore spot to a lot of audiences) that this reboot/ “retooling” of this truly iconic franchise was actually, despite a few flaws here and there, would turn out to be gasp pretty darn good. Yet even more shocking than that is the fact that in 2014, its follow-up from film helmer Matt Reeves known as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was not only a better movie, but was a film that managed to actually be something even rarer in that it actually turned out to be on the level of quality of the very first one from 1968 and that one’s a masterpiece of sci-fi cinema if not just straight up cinema at that. So of course with such expectations being in play, it should come as no surprise to learn that people were thinking that the slice of cinematic pie, 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes, would fall prey to what happened with The Matrix Revolutions for example and be a trilogy capper that would be merely good at best and at worst one that will wildly miss the mark and end the trilogy on as low a note as possible. Well I am pleased to say that this slice of cinematic pie is most assuredly not one that falls prey to that curse in any way, shape, form, or fashion. Rather, War for the Planet of the Apes is a slice of cinematic pie that from its phenomenal cast, a riveting and epic narrative, terrific work at the helm by Matt Reeves and a talented crew behind the camera, and visual effects that are just downright jaw-droppingly amazing is not just an incredible resolution to a trilogy with few cinematic equals. Indeed it is also quite undeniable proof that cinema can still be, in the right hands, a true and unrivaled work of art.
The plot is as follows: A couple of years following the aftermath of 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, we see that Caesar has continued in his role as leader of his tribe of genetically-enhanced simians. Yet as of late, we see that the tribe have been forced to hide in the woods since they are continuously being hunted by the last dredges of humanity despite Caesar desperately wanting some semblance of peace to exist between the two species rather than continuous bloodshed and/or loss of life on both sides. However when the head of a rogue military unit known only as the Colonel decides to engage in a genocidal strike against the monkeys that hits way too close to home, we see a grief-stricken Caesar, with some of his closest allies in tow, head out on a vengeance-fueled quest to this military tyrant’s base of operations in order to engage in a showdown with this mad despot. A showdown that the outcome of which, it soon becomes quite apparent, will determine no more and no less than the fate of both of their respective species….
Now perhaps the single biggest praise that I can forward to this slice of cinematic pie is in how it is able to widen the scope of the overall narrative without taking on way more than it is prepared to handle. Indeed make no mistake: War for the Planet of the Apes most assuredly is a slice of cinematic pie that through and through is able to 110% bring together the trilogy of film in what I call the “Caesar Arc” and does it in a manner that constructs the narrative to its best potential possible. Indeed every single time this movie makes a reference to things that happened in the other 2 movies it does have meaning and every choice that is made in this has a gravity to it and that is eventually reciprocated in some way as the movies goes along. A truly extraordinary thing especially when taking into account just how often third films in a trilogy often feel like they have to bring everything together in a way that is not only neat and tidy, but also satisfyingly as well. Yet even though War for the Planet of the Apes does take time to put all the pieces it’s working with in their proper slots, it also has the guts to do novel things. I say this because, unlike the first 2 entries in this trilogy that were meant to be seen as blockbuster-type films, film helmer Matt Reeves and his creative team have assembled a slice of cinematic pie that is packed with enough material that it does give off the vibe that I won’t blame you for thinking this is the slowest moving entry in the trilogy. As such, this film’s creative team have given this slice of cinematic pie symbolism and allusion towards influences of a Biblical and even Shakespearian nature that the saga of Caesar has always seemed to possess. Heck even with new characters in this like Bad Ape, this slice of cinematic pie is able to give the viewer a novel character to follow in this world whilst also ensuring that none of the characters we have been following for 3 movies now don’t suffer in terms of their ever-evolving characterization as well. Now if none of this really matters to you and you are more worried that this slice of cinematic pie won’t give you enough bang for your buck to help balance out the more dramatic elements, then you will be relieved to know there is a fair bit of impressive action beats in this film from a beginning combat beat in the jungle that will make you feel like you are watching a Vietnam War film and some truly amazing action beats in the third act that will have you riveted to the edge of your seat in the best way possible.
Of course, I also think it should be said that absolutely none of this would work on the majestic level that it ultimately does if it wasn’t for the truly gifted cast of performers operating in front of the camera and bringing this bleak yet riveting and emotional narrative vividly to life. This of course starts with Andy Serkis who is once again downright riveting and powerful to watch in the role of Caesar. Indeed it really is no closely guarded secret that this trilogy of films has been about Caesar and his struggle to give his tribe a home that they can call their own and be free from annihilation. Suffice it to say then that Serkis manages in this slice of cinematic pie once again to give this trilogy the heart and soul it so desperately needs. Indeed his character may, way more than the other 2, get put through absolute agony in this one, but Serkis still gives us a truly iconic performance that really is one for the ages. Indeed I know that the Oscars didn’t see fit, for whatever reason, to even give this performance or the man behind it a nod, but that’s their loss because they easily missed one of the best performances of the year. Sure it might not be your typical performance due to working with mo cap technology, but you can’t deny the skill and passion that went into making this character one of the most iconic in the past 2 decades of film. Yet just as good as Serkis’ performance is the one given by trilogy newcomer Woody Harrelson as this installment’s chief heavy The Colonel or, as I like to see this guy, the mix between Amon Goth from Schindler’s List and Kurtz from Apocalypse Now that you never knew you needed. Indeed if the wrong performer had been picked for this distinct part it could quite easily have transformed into a caricature in the worst way possible. Thankfully, the movie was able to get Harrelson for the part who is not only a downright intimidating force to be reckoned with, but also genuinely terrifying at points and also surprisingly relatable especially in the moments where he is talking about his son. No this man is not someone you find yourself really feeling sorry for, but in Harrelson’s hands at least you get more dimension and ferocity to him than you would in the hands of a lesser actor. Finally, there is one other performance that I feel is most certainly worth mentioning and that is Steve Zahn as new character Bad Ape. Indeed this character is one that is risky because as the sole comic relief in a movie that is otherwise serious to the hilt you have to find a performer who can be comedic whilst both still walking along a very narrow line between genuinely funny and Jar Jar Binks’ level of annoying as well as still being able to fit into the overall world of the film. Thankfully Zahn is a truly underrated actor who has shown he can handle both comedy and drama with equal skill and it should come as no surprise to learn that he manages to do so here with ease.
All in all I think it can easily and safely be said that War for the Planet of the Apes at the end of the day really truly is a jaw-droppingly phenomenal final bow in one of the most unlikely successful prequel reboot trilogies in recent memory. At the same time however, this is also a unique situation where the final curtain call is one that manages to flesh out so much of a cinematic world that the series could actually go further than just a trinity of films and, in an even rarer twist that I am sure no one could have predicted with the release of the first one back in 2011 as I said at the beginning of this review, even after this trilogy of films has wrapped up I still find myself actually wanting to see more of this cinematic world as well. When just looking at this slice of cinematic pie based entirely off its own merits however, War for the Planet of the Apes is an incredible film to behold. Indeed Andy Serkis once more gives us a phenomenal and rivetingly multilayered performance as Caesar and the support cast that has been assembled, with particular regard to both Steve Zahn and especially Woody Harrelson, all manage to match Serkis’ efforts here with iconic and riveting performances of their own. Of course, the actors are almost certainly aided by terrific work from a talented crew behind the crew including film helmer Matt Reeves who once again demonstrates a serious talent for giving us a slice of cinematic pie that is an equal balance of moments of spectacle and moments that are a bit more grounded as well as visual effects work that is once more absolutely out of this world in terms of how realistic they are. Finally, it also doesn’t hurt in the slightest that this slice of cinematic pie is one that is also aided by a narrative that feels like a mix between an internment camp movie, a straight up dark as heck war film, and even Apocalypse Now to some degree (to the point that Harrelson could just as easily be playing an updated yet no less terrifying Colonel Kurtz in this) and remarkably it all blends together quite well to make a slice of cinematic pie that feels not just like a throwback to certain other movies including the aforementioned Apocalypse Now as well as Rescue Dawn from 2006 and The Great Escape from 1963, but also operates as its own thing in a way that is honestly quite refreshing. Suffice it to say that War for the Planet of the Apes is more than just a phenomenal slice of cinematic pie. It also is no more and no less than one of the best summer movies of the 2010s, but also proof that movies can still be a true spectacle if made with heart & passion rather than the usual degree of cynicism that seems to dominate the movie landscape nowadays. On a scale of 1-5 I proudly give War for the Planet of the Apes a solid 4.5 out of 5