Written by Shawn Eastridge
These new Planet of the Apes movies are something of a miracle. What started as a franchise reboot no one wanted has inexplicably evolved into one of the great cinematic trilogies of this day and age. Starting on humble ground with Rupert Wyatt’s 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes – a film far better than it had any right to be – the franchise reached a new level of cinematic excellence when director Matt Reeves took the reigns for the sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Dawn is, in my not-so-humble opinion, one of this past decade’s masterpieces. I’d even go so far as to say it belongs on the same pedestal as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
War for the Planet of the Apes might not reach Dawn’s heights, but it concludes this trilogy with finesse, ending on a note both exciting and emotionally satisfying. And as any good franchise should, it leaves the door wide open for sequels should 20th Century Fox opt to continue with this series. (Spoiler alert: they really should.)
It’s been two years since the events of Dawn. Caesar and his ape tribe hide out in the woods, pursued by human soldiers intent on wiping them out for good. This conflict reaches a boiling point when the soldiers attack at night while the apes are off guard, leaving the tribe weakened and determined to find a new safe haven. For reasons I won’t spoil here, Caesar takes the attack personally and makes it his mission to take out the soldiers’ leader, known only as The Colonel.
So, it’s a revenge story. There are complexities, sure, and intriguing ideas to boot, but there’s nothing as rich or effective as Dawn’s offerings. Part of this is the lack of a compelling villain. While Woody Harrelson is terrifying as the Colonel, his motivations are relatively straightforward, rendering him something of a one-note caricature.
Compare this to Dawn’s Koba, undoubtedly one of the great villains in modern cinema. Koba had strong motivations for the heinous acts he committed and his relationship with Caesar offered up difficult moral questions with no easy answers. Likewise, Koba brought out the best in Caesar from a character development standpoint. This time around, Caesar is single-minded in his quest for revenge, and it’s not nearly as compelling as his journey in Dawn.
But enough about what doesn’t work. Let’s talk about what does. Director Matt Reeves once again shows a knack for crafting beautiful character moments to go hand-in-hand with stunning effects work and visuals. Once again Andy Serkis steals the show with his finest performance to date. (Blah, blah, deserves an Oscar, blah blah) The motion capture effects have reached a whole new level. Never once did I look at the apes and think, ‘Wow, this computer-generated imagery is off the charts.’ I fully believed they were flesh and blood, occupying the same space as their human counterparts and the gorgeous scenery. Michael Giacchino’s somber, elegant score provides a somber and fitting backdrop.
Reeves has done something truly remarkable with this series. In an oversaturated era of franchise filmmaking, he’s made a singular creative effort, uncompromised by corporate demands. Where most modern blockbusters go for pizazz and fireworks, these films have gone for the heart and soul. That Reeves manages to close out this trilogy with any degree of satisfaction is a major accomplishment. Quibbles aside, War cements this rebooted series as a tale for the ages, taking this franchise to all new heights.
Interested in hearing my ranking of the entire Planet of the Apes franchise? Check out the latest episode of Missing Frames in which I join my wife Sarah for her first ever viewing of the classic series.
Also, be sure to check out Tristan and the Girl's review of War for the Planet of the Apes on the latest episode of Nerd Nuptial!