After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
About three quarters of the way through the new film, War For The Planet Of The Apes, a band of simian protagonists saunters past a wall on which is scrawled ”APE-POCALYPSE NOW.” A ballsy reference to one of the best war films ever made that instantly draws comparison. What is most surprising is how well it holds up to that reference. Matt Reeves’ brilliantly directed new chapter in the Apes series is a remarkable achievement on multiple levels that hold up to the very best film in the genre while breaking bold new ground in storytelling and technical wizardry.
“…a war film that bends everything through the lens of a funhouse mirror, in effect gleaning a far deeper meaning.”
It is 15 years after the Simian Flu has decimated civilization. Nature has begun to reclaim what were once human territories and Caesar (Andy Serkis) has been residing over a reclusive population of evolved apes that have pulled away from any human aggression deep in the wilderness.
This lasts about as long as the opening titles as the film begins with a human militia group locating the clan of animals and launching an attack. It is clear that these peaceful creatures want nothing to do with the outside world, but now that they have been found, they have to leave. Caesar is reluctant to leave until a surprise attack led by the progressively deranged Colonel (Woody Harrelson) deals a particularly bitter blow and the plot is set. Sending his clan northward to safety, Caesar is determined to hunt the Colonel down and exact revenge.
Remarkably layered, War For The Planet Of The Apes is a war film that bends everything through the lens of a funhouse mirror, in effect gleaning a far deeper meaning. Humans have become barbaric hairless creatures with brutally destructive weapons. The apes are on the cusp of an evolution that opens their eyes to a broader understanding of what it means to be humane.
“…basks in technical wizardry without sacrificing plot or character development.”
Serkis surpasses anything he has accomplished covered in pixels up to this point, with a performance that is nuanced, powerful, and utterly heartbreaking at times. The once peaceful Caesar suffers a crisis of conscience that rocks him to the core, espousing peace but feeling vengeance. New addition to the cast Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) is the loveable comic relief whose endearing, whispery vocals and performance are both touching and comical. The standout for me was Maurice (Karin Konoval). As the sage-like advisor to Caesar, female actor Konoval plays a male orangutan and brings a level of serenity and acceptance to the adversity around the character. It is a fascinating blurring of gender and genus that boils everything down to a carefully executed performance.
Reeves direction, the writing, the performances from the actors, none of it would work without the team at WETA Digital delivering the goods in what can comfortably be declared a watershed moment in special effects. This is the type of movie that basks in technical wizardry without sacrificing plot or character development. Leaving the uncanny valley WETA’s work here fully convinces us that we are watching living, breathing animals, while at the same time seamlessly capturing every facial tick and muscle twitch of the human actors they have recorded. The Academy should just go ahead now and hand over their Oscar®.
As 20th Century Fox closes a third chapter in its amazing Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy, we sadly watch as the screen fades to black. Well done Fox. You brought a level of artistry to the franchise that it has never had up until now.
War For The Planet Of The Apes (2017) Directed by: Matt Reeves Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Karin Konoval, Steve Zahn, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Amiah Miller
War For The Planet Of The Apes is worth Full Price (****).
* Norm’s Rating System: Full Price (****), Matinee (***), VOD (**), Don’t Bother (*)