REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Theatrical Release Poster – 20th Century Fox

The following is a review of War for the Planet of the Apes – Directed by Matt Reeves.

As I sat down to watch War for the Planet of the Apes last week, I was reminded of how overlooked this franchise and, indeed, this trilogy has been this decade. I remember how I expected nothing from the first film in this reboot trilogy – Rise of the Planet of the Apes – but also how much I was blown away by it.

When Rupert Wyatt was replaced by Matt Reeves, who had previously directed Cloverfield and the American remake of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, I began to worry about the state of the Apes-franchise yet again.

Yet Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was good enough to be considered for end of the year-top ten lists. War for the Planet of the Apes is no different. In fact, I think Reeves has outdone himself and made what will ultimately be one of the best films of the year.

War for the Planet of the Apes takes place two years after the events of Dawn, at which point Caesar’s clan is in an open war with a human group led by a contentious and hateful Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson). After the Colonel kills important members of the clan during a late night assault on Caesar’s home, an enraged Caesar abandons his clan to confront the Colonel.

War for the Planet of the Apes isn’t the action-packed war-film that its title makes you think it is. Instead, it is an outstanding intimate revenge film with religious imagery set in a time of war, with a world-weary protagonist on the warpath. If the title got you excited, then you may need to adjust your expectations slightly. However, if you’re interested in this movie simply because you care about the central character and the universe he inhabits, then be prepared for something truly magnificent.

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the film was viewed mostly from the perspective of James Franco’s character Dr. Will Rodman until Caesar became an adult. Similarly, while Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was much more focused on Caesar’s clan, we still had the perspective of Jason Clarke’s character Malcolm.

War for the Planet of the Apes, on the other hand, is viewed entirely from the apes’ perspective. The film opens with the perspective of an ape that is serving the Colonel while they are ambushing Caesar’s clan, and the rest of the film is viewed entirely from either Caesar or his followers’ perspectives. This is also the most sympathetic and human the apes have ever been in the franchise.

They also look more real than they ever have before. I thought the apes looked breathtakingly real back in Rise, and even more so in Dawn, but in War it is absolutely astounding. At no point in the film do the computer-generated images disappoint. Even when all you see are CGI apes using sign language to communicate, it just looks so real and never becomes boring.

As always, one should point out that motion capture performances rely on visual effects. However, in War, it actually does feel like you’re watching an Andy Serkis performance with added computer-generated images that act merely as visual effects make-up.

Serkis has already played an iconic character, to an extent, created by visual effects. At this point, though, I feel like his performance as Caesar has surpassed anything he ever did as Gollum. If there ever is a time for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to honor Andy Serkis, then I think it is finally that very moment. Because Andy Serkis is absolutely terrific as Caesar.

Steve Zahn also gives a solid performance as one of the central apes in the story, and his character acts as the comic relief character. Thankfully, though, Zahn’s Bad Ape mostly works very well. I thought Woody Harrelson was perfectly fine as the Colonel. You certainly hate the character, but the weight of this film lies on the shoulders of Andy Serkis.

The film also doesn’t completely rely on an epic showdown between apes and humans, and that is refreshing. The film packs a punch precisely because of how similar the protagonist and antagonist may, or may not, be. When I was watching the film, I was also very impressed with the emotionally stirring musical score composed by Michael Giacchino.

Ultimately, I, honestly, only have one tiny problem with the film. I think they should’ve shortened the film by ten or fifteen minutes, because it does get a little bit long and there is a point in the middle of the film were the film slows down perhaps too much.

But, to be honest with you, that is the only problem I had with the film. I almost want to declare that this film is a perfect masterpiece, but there is just that one little problem. Still, I do think that it is destined to be a new science-fiction classic, and propel Caesar into becoming, quite frankly, the most iconic character in the entire franchise.

At the very least, War For the Planet of the Apes is my favorite film in the franchise yet. It isn’t just one of the most impressive blockbuster films of the year, it also may be one of the year’s best films.

9.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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