Ever since Charlton Heston fell to his knees on the beach of an ape-occupied world (is it still a spoiler to say where that world was?) back in ’68, the sophisticated simians have gone on to leave an indelible imprint on the silver screen. However, the ideologically inclined original film, based on Pierre Boulle’s novel, has remained the benchmark for the series, throughout the numerous (sometimes silly) sequels. And after Tim Burton’s disappointingly hollow remake in 2001, few expressed much enthusiasm at the CG-filled reboot/prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes. However Rupert Wyatt’s film kick started what has been the Apes’ best run onscreen in decades, a fact verified by Matt Reeves’ masterful sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014. So, with hopes high, can Reeves’ War of the Planet of the Apes even hope to live up? Well, it doesn’t...it exceeds.
The film picks up on the promise left lingering by the ending of Dawn, as the remnants of man are waging war on apekind, while Caesar (Andy Serkis) still hopes that a peaceful resolution can be possible. However, when the tactics of a ruthless military Colonel (Woody Harrelson) push the leader of the apes to a place he has not ever been, he is forced to question whether the same hatred that lived within Koba (Toby Kebbel’s big bad in the last movie), is growing within him. Utilising Western tropes in the opening third, before coming to blend War movie and Prison movie influences, War is an astonishing achievement in technological potential but, more importantly, in this trilogies raw emotive narrative power. Less a simple story than a gripping parable, this film is one of the most gruelling, poignant and triumphant watches since Kornél Mundruczó’s White God (a film it shares many parallels with).
Combining exhaustive scenes of suffering akin to Scorsese’s Silence earlier this year and Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, alongside bookend action sequences and Great Escape-like prison scenes, this is ambitious, emotionally riveting and soulful blockbuster filmmaking on an immaculate scale. Reminding of this year’s Logan in how it presents a desperate, shattered world, a worn down lead wrestling with issues and Western like violent confrontation, not to mention a youthful character who is a beacon of hope to the plot, this film arguably did Logan even better than Logan did! In this film war is rife but it is more mankind becoming primal savages, binarily opposing the sophisticated pacifism of some of Caesar’s apes (minus a few “traitors” who succumb to fear - another bold idea). This is a film that paints a picture of slavery (evoking real historical injustices) and tells a vital tale of how the human race abuses and uses what it holds power over and fears being torn apart by natural forces, when it is actually being destroyed by its own greed, misguided beliefs and lusts for power.
Reeves and Bomback’s story is a tour de force which uses groundbreaking motion capture and technically dazzling effects to accompany, as opposed to distract from, its story. The motion capture CGI is photo realistic throughout with the suffering of the apes being even more tear enduringly shattering, as a result of the realistic shell that allows the actors to provide the soul. Serkis deserves golden recognition, long overdue for his pioneering work in validating this approach to acting (be it as Golum or Caesar)...and that is just what it is, real acting. He is faultless in the role and as Caesar showcases the internal conflict within this noble but afflicted hero - both physically and verbally. His mannerisms and eyes gleam with pain and moral confusion, as he is lost in how best to fight this new level of human cruelty. Meanwhile Harrelson as the Colonel offers truly nasty and near psychotic support and opposition.
However in this film, the tetartagonists truly shine too, as Karin Konoval’s beloved character Maurice becomes the films biggest badass, and his connection with the human jewel in the movies crown in a young speechless child, played to perfection by Amiah Miller, is a further level of heart to a film already brimming with it. The final scene between Maurice and Caesar is a necessary, savage, beautiful and honest cap to the film, while a mid-film sequence involving Amiah Miller’s most kind hearted and compassionate character in the film is further proof of why Miller deserves even more praise than she is receiving. Then there is some much needed lightness provided to this dark and affecting tale by Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape, whose introduction is necessary in providing the story with some smiles amidst the tears. Terry Notary and Ty Olsson as Caesar’s loyal accomplices Rocket and Red also have their moments to shine in a film filled with moments of uplift, intensity and heartache, as it masterfully blends hellish Apocalypse Now conflict one minute with snow strewn horseback edge of seat Drama the next.
This is a journey that must be seen in cinemas and a finale to one of the greatest contemporary trilogies in recent memory. Michael Giacchino’s score (which is one of the talented composers most stunning to date) is the perfect partner for Michael Seresin’s cinematography in this artistic, intelligent and uncompromisingly mesmerising film. This is what can be accomplished when the passion for storytelling is as strong as the use of special effects to bring that story to life. You could hear a pin drop as this reviewer left the screening, which has arguably not been the case for this series since the monumental closing twist of the original motion picture. One of the years best films. Batman is in good hands.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: MATT REEVES / SCREENPLAY: MARK BOMBACK, MATT REEVES / STARRING: ANDY SERKIS, WOODY HARRELSON, AMIAH MILLER, STEVE ZAHN, KARIN KONOVAL, TERRY NOTARY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 9/10