War for the Planet of the Apes - 2017
War for the Planet of the Apes is the final chapter in the Apes prequel trilogy. Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback returned as co-writers and Reeves also returned as director. They came onboard during the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and they continue to elevate this material beyond what anybody expected. Along with the creative duo behind the camera, most of the Apes in front of it also return, among them our protagonist and motion capture legend Andy Serkis as Caesar, leader of the apes. I usually give a brief-summary of the plot, but the trailers have done such a great job of not giving much away that I just won’t risk ruining it for you.
Quick note before we dive into the review: this movie is one of the most beautifully-sad pieces of art that I have seen all year. It’s far from a happy or funny moviegoing experience, but it’s one of my favorite movies of the year. With that caveat out of the way, enjoy my review.
Usually when we think about trilogies, the third installment is the weakest link among them. The most recent example we can look to is The Dark Knight Trilogy. Apes managed to get better with each installment, this one being by far my favorite among them. Reeves and Bomback wrote an emotionally packed screenplay tugging at the right string at the right moments. I expected a different movie when walking in and I was pleasantly surprised by the one I got.
Reeves and cinematographer Michael Seresin shot a visual marvel. Some of the scene compositions and camera movements are creative in how they used the locations and sets. Honestly this film is of the of the most gorgeous movies in recent memory. Reeves and his location scouting crew found multiple places to exploit the beauty of the nature that surrounded the violence and dread the story carried, perfectly creating a juxtaposition between the visuals and the action.
WFTPOTA… yeah that’s a lot… if they make another one, please shorten up the titles. War marks another stellar motion capture performance from Andy Serkis as Caesar. The amount of emotions he can convey through dots on his face is both a testament to his talents and to the visual effects team behind him. Along with Serkis, Karin Konoval also returns as my favorite sign-talking orangutan and the emotional anchor of Caesar during his darkest moments. The relationship between them has slowly grown throughout the trilogy, perfectly paying off by the end.
There are two new added members to the cast: Steve Zahn as Bad Ape and Woody Harrelson as the main baddie The Colonel. Zahn was the comedic relief of the movie, but was never so over the top as to completely break the tone that was set up before he arrived. Harrelson gave another solid performance and had a great backstory and motivation behind his actions. One of the few qualms I had with this movie was his character design as he is always wearing sunglasses, even at night, because he is such a bad man that darkness doesn’t affect him, but it’s such a small qualm that it doesn’t kill his character.
While the screenplay and the acting is a huge driving force as to why the emotions run deep in this movie, the incredible score plays a pivotal role to its success. Michael Giacchino composed an amazing, varied score. There is a current trend in Hollywood in where the score is either bland or doesn’t fit the tone or visuals. There are some exceptions off course - It Comes at Night is one of them - but this score perfectly accentuates the tone and the plot points developing within the scene.
When the movie ended I had a wave of sadness washing over me and I didn’t understand why. As I was walking to my car I realized why I had this emotion running through me and that’s what this movie leads too. When you watch the original Planet of the Apes, you see that the apes essentially become the humans they fought against for the entirety of this trilogy. They treat the humans like animals, they feel superior and they are slowly destroying their civilization among themselves. All the sacrifices, the bloodshed and the pain Caesar goes through to save his race and show humans that they are better, well, human beings, go by the wayside. This is beautifully telegraphed by Harrelson’s character as he is obsessed with history, and a civilization that doesn’t know its history is doomed to repeat it.
War for the Planet of the Apes managed to deliver a powerful character study wrapped up in a non-traditional summer blockbuster and concluded effectively a trilogy. This movie shouldn’t be as good as it is. I shouldn’t be walking away emotionally drained from watching an Apes movie. With all the elements coming together (writing, directing, score and acting), War is one of the better movies of 2017 and it may easily be one of my favorites of the year. Serkis and his motion capture career is why I love movies.
War of the Planet of the Apes is currently playing in theaters. Just watch it before they take over.
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