Planet of the Apes is one of the last remnants of classic Hollywood still alive today. Back in the late 1960s and 1970s, a release of a Planet of the Apes movie was an event, as moviegoers flocked to see an epic sci-fi story of an alternative universe where apes ruled planet earth. 2001 saw a re-make of the film, directed by Tim Burton and starring Mark Wahlberg. That version was savaged by critics and fans alike, leading to the cancellation of any future sequels. 2011 saw a revival of the franchise in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a thrilling new take on what was essentially a re-boot of the classic franchise. While many praised its sequel released in 2014, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I found myself disappointed in the film. Due to Dawn’s critical acclaim and financial success, however, the epic and final chapter of Caesar and his primates has arrived in the form of War for the Planet of the Apes.
War for the Planet of the Apes sees Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes seeking refuge away from humans, who still blame the apes for the Simian Flu outbreak and for the current state of the world no thanks to the actions of Koba two years earlier in Dawn. The particular humans they are at war with are a clan known as Alpha-Omega, led by the ruthless and seemingly apathetic Colonel (Woody Harrelson). After Alpha-Omega attack Caesar and his tribe in their refuge in the woods, Caesar goes on a vengeful mission to kill the Colonel and end the war between apes and humans once and for all.
If there were ever a time to praise a film for its ability to create a big-budgeted blockbuster while avoiding the typical tropes of such blockbusters, this would be the time. War for the Planet of the Apes is able to be an engrossing, emotional film with minimal dialogue, as it substitutes dialogue for some of the best reaction shot acting ever captured on film. The film relies upon these reactions to pull the emotions out of the audience, and War leaves you feeling every single emotion there is throughout during its near two-and-a-half-hour run-time. At the same time, the film also delivers on its title, as the action/ war sequences are nothing short of thrilling, leaving you on the edge of your seat.
Within the confines of the film is also emotional complexity that you not only do not see in summer movies, but do not even see in some movies period. We feel Caesar’s plight and wanting to be left alone, yet completely side with him once he decides to go after the Colonel. We laugh at the quirkiness of Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) yet empathize with him since he too has experienced pain and suffering that has led him to becoming a hermit. The tenderness of the relationship between Maurice (Karn Kornoval) Nova (Amiah Miller) is nothing short of sweet and tear-jerking, representing one of the best parent child relationships we’ve seen on film in quite some time. Even though the film wants us to root against our very kind thanks to Woody Harrelson’s harrowing performance as the Colonel, we understand his motivations and the decisions he makes in order to protect the human race. It’s emotional depth, investment, and complexity like this that sets War for the Planet of the Apes above and beyond the rest of the pack.
The motion capture technology used in the film is nothing short of extraordinary, as the apes look more realistic than ever in this epic final chapter. This technology, however, wouldn’t be anything without the casting of such tremendous actors who are able to capture the spirit and likeness of actual primates. They are of course led by the great Andy Serkis, who continues to exploit his niche of motion capture acting and delivers yet another showstopping performance as Caesar. It’s times such as these where I believe the Academy of Arts and Sciences should seriously consider motion capture actors for acting awards, as Andy Serkis’ performance of the apes’ leader is not only deserving of recognition, but is the best acting performance you’ll see this summer.
The film also draws many parallels to slavery and the journey of Moses to the promised land, adding even more compound aspects to a film that is being released during a time in which most audiences are looking for escapist entertainment. The Planet of the Apes films have always had some sort of uncomfortable comparison to racial tensions back in the late 1960s due to certain people’s reluctance to accept the Civil Rights Movement, but War also seems to be the most contemporary Planet of the Apes film to date. One can’t help but think of Donald Trump’s psychotic plans regarding the border of Mexico after the mere mention of the Alpha Omega clan building something in order to keep certain people out of there military camp, adding a composite nationalist mentality to the humans that is even more enhanced in the real world today.
In a summer filled with franchises that have well overstayed their welcome, War for the Planet of the Apes is a spectacular triumph. A film such as War should be praised immensely for having the courage of its convictions by not only having limited dialogue and packing an emotional punch, but also for delivering the type of explosive action we’ve come to expect summer blockbusters to provide. It’s an ambitious film that dares to defy the action and drama genres all at once. Three films into the re-imagining of the franchise, War for the Planet of the Apes is the strongest Planet of the Apes film yet, and administers an enthralling and satisfying conclusion to Caesar’s saga.
Rating: 4/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.