Dawn of the Planet of the Apes left our hero Caesar (Andy Serkis) breaking one of his rules. He killed Koba, the villainous figure and catalyst for the human vs. ape war that followed. Apes don’t kill other apes, but that’s what has happened. It was a sin not even Caesar, the greatest of warriors, could overcome, and it haunts him. His guilt eats him up. But as a leader, he can’t let this be the case. The world he lives in is dark and unrelenting. Apes hide in the woods for survival, nurturing the young and protecting the others. Caesar didn’t start this war. It’s not something he ever wanted. And yet, the war comes for him.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a grueling, grim and catastrophic finale to a trilogy that continues to expand upon its beloved source material. They’re prequels that have developed into their own self-contained world, unhinged from the hugely popular original films that made this franchise so great. They have their own set of rules. Anything goes, and anything does. It’s an epic and unnerving final chapter that’s as brutal as it is emotional, all while mixed in with undertones of American history. The world is so bleak and desolate, full of violence and danger, and director Matt Reeves crafts it to perfection. He has an immense understanding of the environment. It’s full of beautiful simplicity and gorgeous, snowy environments that thunder out into the encapsulating theatre experience.
The titular adjective takes on many forms throughout, but the most jarring aspect may leave audiences somewhat disappointed. This is not an action film. There are really only three, maybe four sequences of action. It is, in similar fashion to newly released war epic Dunkirk, these characters doing their best to survive, guided by an equally memorable score. Shifting this focus more onto the character’s internal struggles than an external battle makes for an unexpected and painstakingly dark story that unfolds slowly, but surely. Most of the movie sees Caesar unwilling tied into a situation barely showcased in the trailers, none of which I had seen prior to watching this film. It’s a dire situation that proves to be his biggest, most challenging obstacle yet.
The digital artists blend everything seamlessly. It draws you in and leaves you in awe. An opening battle sequence had my jaw dropped, not just because of the gritty viciousness, but because there wasn’t a single flaw in any of the designs. And it only gets better from there. Third act close ups of a broken down, desperate to survive Caesar are simply astonishing. You’ve never seen CGI like this. It’s grand and epic, fitting in perfectly with the story that’s needed to be told. Having your primary characters all motion capture, with very little on screen humans in the first half, is a bold move, but Reeves and co. roll with it and they make it work. This is a franchise that’s been robbed of Oscars. It’s time that changes.
Karin Konoval’s Maurice and Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape are absolute show stealers. Maurice takes on a more parental role here, family being a strong theme throughout, when she uncovers a mute girl named Nova (Amiah Miller). Their relationship is key, and both actresses deliver an accessible, moving performance all without very many words. On the contrary, Zahn is unable to shut up as the film’s star player, Bad Ape, who’s loveable from the minute he appears on screen. His past is tragic, but it shapes him into the ape we first meet him as, and every scene he’s or line he’s given is even more memorable than the last. Bad Ape brings levity to the depressing nature of the movie, but more than that, he ties the whole plot together in an exciting way.
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