In a time when the terms “prequel” and “reboot” are treated like swear words in film communities, the new Planet of the Apes series stands as a proud example of what these can be. This conclusion of Caesar’s chronicle is an achievement in storytelling, effects work, and sound and builds upon the groundwork of the past two installments. However, where ‘War’ really stands out in cinema is in emotion and being able to convey important morals.
In 2034 (8 years since the events of ‘Dawn’ & 15 years since ‘Rise’), the genetically enhanced ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) is still working to keep the rest of the apes safe from humans lead by the ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson). After a devastating attack, Caesar, accompanied by a handful of others, goes on a mission to end this war and avenge his kind.
To get right to the point, this movie is so satisfying and emotional. It really wraps up this prequel story very in a way that will leave audiences really touched. It is far more than your run-of-the-mill blockbuster. It brings to life the nuanced question of what it means to be human and how we value our “humanity”. The morals and messages can go as deep as an audience wants. It addresses such topics as differences, revenge, persecution, sacrifice, and life. Especially adding upon the movies that came before, this movie will really make audiences think and ask important questions.
Likes the titular apes, this series has really evolved. ‘Rise’ was a story of humans with apes involved. ‘Dawn’ was a hybrid story, focusing on both the desperate & scared human survivors, as well as the apes’ struggles. But ‘War’ is really a movie focused on just the apes. The humans have truly become the outsiders. But it is not just a story of apes against humans. The conflict is not so binary. There are good apes as well as bad apes, and there are also bad people and good people, making the movies messages all the more poignant as “humanity” is not defined by species.
Andy Serkis proves again here to be one of Hollywood’s greatest actors as he embraces this role. This is arguably Serkis’ best cinematic performance. He continues to show that he is the master of motion capture technology to become any character. He turns this ape, who is essentially an advanced animal, into one of the most understandable and relateable non-human characters.
Along with Serkis, we also have the expert performance capture acting of Terry Notary, Toby Kebbell, Karin Konoval, and Judy Greer returning to the series, along with newcomer Steve Zahn as the comedicly trepidatious Bad Ape. The young Amiah Miller plays a difficult part of a young mute girl, Nova, who is welcomed by the apes. Rounding out the cast is the Colonel.
Woody Harrelson is typically an extremely likable actor, which makes this malicious human leader all the more distasteful. He shows the evil that man can inflict on others during the worst of times.
Weta Workshop’s motion capture technology has advanced to the next level here as it has developed over more than a decade and a half. We see elements that have never been seen before. The apes have far more detail and expression. We even see them interact more with water and snow elements.
Obviously, as the title would suggest, this movie is about a war. But it is more about the conflict than it is an actual “war movie”. There are certainly some intense action sequences, but these come in ways that are different than you would typically expect. A lot of it is more focused struggle, persecution, and hardship.
Returning from scoring ‘Dawn’, the overworking Michael Giacchino composed an intimate, heartfelt musical score. Frequently, the movie has very little dialogue or sound effects allowing the music to soar and carry the narrative and emotion. The new themes are a welcome addition to the franchise. We hear a repetitve orchestral traveling theme, a contemplative soft theme for Caesar’s tender side, and a quirky (but tense) escape theme for the beginning of the 3rd act. Also, the lovely overall theme for this series returns. We are also treated to a deep primal drums version of Alfred Newman’s classic opening 20th Century Fox fanfare. Giacchino continues to show his prowess as a master of themes, instrumentation, emotion, and percussion all throughout this score, which is far better when experienced in cinema than on the album.
After such series as Star Wars, The Hobbit, and X-Men, it is so great to finally have truly great prequel trilogy. This trilogy really speaks to our humanity. It may not have the spectacle of traditional summer blockbusters, nor the humor to make us feel good throughout the show, nor even crazy pulse-pounding action. But this franchise, and particularly ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ is a personal story with important morals and shows forth some of the best of both filmmaking capabilities and modern storytelling.
Matt Reeves’ post-apocalyptic sequel/prequel fantasy adventure WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES from 20th Century Fox & The Chernin Group stars Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Terry Notary, Toby Kebbel, Karin Konoval, Amirah Miller, Judy Greer, and Gabriel Chavarria and is out in theaters July 14th, 2017.
PG-13 – 2hrs. 20min.