War for the Planet of the Apes is the third part in this rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise revolving around Andy Serkis’ Caesar, the leader of the Apes revolution. War picks up two years after Dawn left off, with the war that had been sparked by Koba in full flow, and the Apes being hunted by a ruthless Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson.
If you’ve seen the fairly action packed trailers for the film and go in expecting more of the same, then you are sure to be disappointed. Because War for the Planet of the Apes is not that film at all. Instead what you get is far more character based film that takes a deep look at what desperation and anger can drive people to. This is brought out through both Caesar and the Colonel. The film certainly isn’t action sequence after action sequence; in fact outside of the very beginning and ending of the film there aren’t any really spectacular action sequences.
As we’ve come to expect in this franchise the performances are wonderful, even through motion capture for many of the actors. Serkis continues to deliver Caesar’s wonderful journey. He is clearly older and wearier now. It shows in the way Serkis holds himself, and the Mo-cap manages to pick up the smallest of details. In War Serkis is also allowed to go to some of the really darker places in the trilogy. For much of the film Caesar is consumed by rage. It’s never happened before but if major acting award nominations were ever going to be given to actors in motion capture roles then this could be it for Serkis.
And he’s given an adversary that he can really stand up against. Woody Harrelson is brilliant as the ruthless Colonel. He plays up the ruthless and merciless aspects of the character, setting him apart from the gentler Caesar. But at the same time you also completely understand what motivates him, why he takes the decisions he does, and are also able to see how you might believe in what he was doing if you were in that situation. It makes him a truly interesting counterpoint to Caesar. Every scene between Caesar and the Colonel is riveting and engaging filmmaking, and one of the reasons War for the Planet of the Apes is a cut above your conventional big budget summer movie.
The rest of the core group of apes are great as well. Steve Zahn as ‘Bad Ape’ brings maybe the most human performance from any of the apes in the franchise. He also brings the occasional moment of much needed levity in what is a heavy film. The returns of Apes Rocket, Maurice, and new gorilla Luca bring the opportunity for some wonderful moments with the young human girl they find. Finally Red, the gorilla played by Ty Olsson that serves the Colonel is one of the best-realised characters in the whole franchise. At first he appears to just be a brute, but Olsson gives him such depth as the film moves on that he becomes one of the most compelling characters in the film.
As you’d expect, given how impressive they’ve been in the past, the effects in War for the Planet of the Apes are incredible. The Apes have always looked good, and the level of detail in the motion capture is now absolutely breathtaking. Each of the main apes are easily distinguishable, so it is easy enough to tell them all apart thanks to the level of detail in them. Even in scenes with a large number of apes they all feel so real, including the background apes. Every single CGI ape feels as though they have been given the same attention to detail as the principle ones.
War for the Planet of the Apes does a brilliant job of closing out this trilogy. It is in a very similar vain to Dawn, although I think there are some points towards the end of the film that don’t feel as fresh and brilliant, so doesn’t quite live up to the masterpiece status I would confer on Dawn. That’s not to say that War isn’t a really great film, but that final act, whilst still fill of brilliant and moving moments, isn’t quite consistent enough. It is still great enough to have the new Planet of the Apes trilogy be considered one of the best ever.