WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES Review – A Perfect Ending to a Near Perfect Trilogy

A great cinematic trilogy, one where every film delivers something special, is a very rare occurrence.  THE MATRIX films fizzled out with their third installment, as did THE GODFATHER series.  Matter of fact, as I began to really think about it, I realized that very few successful trilogies exist in the world of cinema.  Among the few are the original three STAR WARS films, as well the LORD OF THE RINGS series.  Well, now we can officially add a new series to the list.  With their latest release, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, Twentieth Century Fox has wrapped up the PLANET OF THE APES reboot trilogy in a perfect way, by giving us an epic conclusion to the series that most people didn’t even know they wanted (Remember the backlash when RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was first announced?).  Allowing the story to steer into some dark emotional places, the film is more of a character drama than one would expect from a summer tentpole film where most of the characters are CGI creations.  With so much talk being centered around the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes, maybe it’s time we placed our attention where it truly belongs – The Planet of the Apes Cinematic Universe.

Continue reading for our full WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES review.

The story begins only a couple of years after the events portrayed in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES  with the simians still led by the now legendary rebel Caesar, as they hide out in the wilderness somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.  Caesar wants nothing to do with the war that the humans are forcing upon him and his primary focus in life is the survival of his clan.  When a crazy Colonel in the human army (whose name we’re never given) finds and attacks the ape encampment there are dire consequences.  Consequences that make things very personal for Caesar who now goes against everything he has ever believed in by throwing the idea of peace to the side and setting off on a path of revenge.

Twentieth Century Fox's "War for the Planet of the Apes."

Twentieth Century Fox’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

From the film’s opening moments, it is evident that the filmmakers are not taking the title of the movie lightly.  At times the film is reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s Oscar winning PLATOON, while also giving it’s fair share of nods to so many of the great war movies that came before it- everything from APOCALYPSE NOW to THE GREAT ESCAPE.  With a very violent tone, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is a daring attempt to tell a dark story of revenge and redemption, digging deep into the characters’ inner psyches.  The strength of the story lies in the sheer bravery of the filmmakers to go all out, without pulling any punches to get their themes across.

For anyone who thinks Hollywood can’t create an intelligent story for the summer blockbuster market, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (or any of the rebooted films – RISE and DAWN as well) is proof positive that they can.  The filmmakers responsible for WAR have an obvious respect not only for the intelligence of their audience, but also for a film franchise that’s been around since 1968 and has spawned two TV series’, numerous comic book spinoffs and a best forgotten 2001 remake.  Director Matt Reeves and his co-writer Mark Bomback aren’t interested in giving audiences the typical summer tentpole film.  Although there are plenty of action set pieces throughout and the amazing computer generated effects are crucial to the films success, the concentration here is really on drama.  Every character is written with their own story of self-discovery and some, like Caesar, are forced to go to some really dark places within their own minds to find whatever little salvation they can within themselves.

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Audacious in tone, the script dares to ask the audience to root for the simian beings as they fight and sometimes kill many of the human characters in the film.  Upon further examination one must realize that this is a bold, yet strange way to tell a story, since as a human audience we are being asked to root for the creatures that can only win by wiping out our own kind – therefore, creating The Planet of the Apes.  If you truly think about this scenario, it can easily be understood how this could actually have turned into a disaster for the filmmakers.  How do we as humans root against our own kind?  Reeves and Bomback seem to know the answer.  Create simian characters that we can fall in love with, as wells as really relate to.  We are forced to understand that they are given no choice but to fight off the human race filled with people who are not necessarily bad, but are acting out in hurtful ways just because they are ignorant and scared (Sound familiar? Look at the world around us.).

L-r, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Andy Serkis and Michael Adamthwaite on the set of Twentieth Century Fox's "War for the Planet of the Apes."

L-r, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Andy Serkis and Michael Adamthwaite on the set of Twentieth Century Fox’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

Twentieth Century Fox's "War for the Planet of the Apes."

Twentieth Century Fox’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

Through all the films in the trilogy Caesar consistently remains a fascinating character.  Meeting him first as a baby chimp in the unforgettable RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, his character keeps evolving with each film.  In WAR he is taken down a very dark road.  One that becomes very personal.  The thing that sets him on his journey (No, I won’t spoil it here) is one that would send almost anyone down a similar path, if not in actuality then at least in one’s mind.  Reeves and Bomback have written Caesar as someone that we want to root for even if we know what he’s doing is wrong, because we ultimately understand his motivations.  Actor Andy Serkis obviously has nothing but respect for Caesar as he never allows his performance as the character to be filled with anything less than real emotions.  As we listen to him speak, and watch how he moves we really are drawn into Caesar’s inner story.  We want to see him find his way back to who he was and veer away from the path of self-destruction that could ultimately consume him and destroy his clan.  This performance is effectively enhanced by the use of the motion capture techniques that the Apes franchise has pretty much perfected.  The range of emotions that are achieved on Caesar’s face through this technology is astonishing. Matter of fact, the same is true for all the apes in the film.  Look closely; even squint if you want, you will swear that you are watching real apes with real emotions.  The CGI is that amazing.

Woody Harrelson stars in Twentieth Century Fox's "War for the Planet of the Apes."

Woody Harrelson stars in Twentieth Century Fox’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

On the other side is the human antagonist known only as the Colonel.  Played by Woody Harrelson, this was the character I feared seeing the most.  Even the best actors working today have a tendency to play the kind of character portrayed here as over the top in order to add a real sense of craziness to the overall performance.  Fortunately, that is not the case here.  The Colonel is written as a three-dimensional character with real concerns regarding the fate of the human race.  The fact that very few seem to share his concerns sends him on his own downward spiral towards insanity and Harrelson plays the Colonel with the perfect level of craziness. Skating along a fine line, he has found the perfect tone to portray the character as slightly mad, while remaining sane enough for us to realize that he may be the only human character in the film who sees the truth in regards to man’s fate.

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.”

WAR also benefits from an incredible supporting cast.  Steve Zahn plays a newcomer to the story.  His character’s name is Bad Ape and he is a welcome addition to the cast.  A refugee from a zoo, Zahn plays him with a subtle sense of humor that helps to lighten the dark tone of the film.  This is another character that could have very easily been played with an over the top attitude, but Zahn instead decides to play him in a more understated way and the film is better off for it.  Then there is Maurice, who most will remember from the previous films.  Mostly silent, speaking only in sign language, Maurice has a true heart of gold.  We endear ourselves to him, because he is the one truly noble character in the film.  Finally, we have Nova, the only human in the film that seems to be on the right side.  She is played by a 12 year old Amiah Miller who is truly magnificent here, giving her character a real sense of somber helplessness without ever needing to speak a single word of dialogue.

Twentieth Century Fox's "War for the Planet of the Apes."

Twentieth Century Fox’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

In a year that has given us some really great genre films like LOGAN and WONDER WOMAN, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES may be the best so far.  A true cinematic achievement that challenges the viewers with real emotional themes that will cause everyone to think about who we are as human beings.  It’s a true spectacle that plays out with some real  jaw dropping special effects and incredibly exciting action set pieces, while still being smart enough to let the characters and their emotional journeys take center stage.  I can honestly say that without a doubt, this is my favorite movie of the year so far.

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WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is in theaters now.  For more family movie news, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on instagramtwitter and “like” our facebook page too.

 

 

About Mark Oguschewitz

Mark Oguschewitz moved to Los Angeles, California after graduating with a film degree from Columbia College in Chicago, Ill. Pursuing a career in the industry, Mark became an award winning freelance editor. He is also known for being the creative consultant for the podcast "Skywalking through Neverland" and co-host of the Podcast "Talking Apes TV." Mark's short film "Gourmet" took the Best Micro-Short honor at the International Horror and Sci-Fi film festival in 2007. His spare time is all about movies. It's not just entertainment, but has become more of a real passion, as he tries to see everything he can. Art house or Blockbuster – It doesn't matter, he loves them all.