It’s very rare for a trilogy nowadays in just about any medium to come around and absolutely nail it from beginning to end. When the original Rise of the Planet of the Apes was announced, it was met with much skepticism as we all had that sour taste in our mouths from the Tim Burton remake. No one expected it to be such an excellent character driven film, and same goes for the superb 2nd entry, Dawn of the Planet of The Apes. So now we have the third installment, War for the Planet of the Apes. As with many trilogies, sticking the landing is easier said than done. With much hype surrounding this release, I am happy to say this is the best movie trilogy since Lord of the Rings. It’s both a high budget summer blockbuster and a character study worthy of an Oscar.
One thing that should be mentioned is that War is not necessarily the action packed epic it’s being marketed as. I’ll even be honest and say I think Dawn contains more action than War. This film is much more than just a war epic filled with tons of battles. There are plenty of surprises within the plot and the characters that I won’t spoil of course. I’ve never considered this trilogy to be about how the apes come to power, rather this his always been the story of Caesar and the struggles he deals in his character and the power to maintain order among the apes. Without a doubt, War is the bleakest of the all 3 films, with some truly gut wrenching and emotional moments. What enhances the emotional response is how attached we’ve grown to these characters, most notably Caesar. His power struggle makes every moment feel important and we as an audience ultimately care about how each situation will affect Caesar. The film could have been about 15 minutes shorter as some scenes would drag about three quarters of the way in, but it’s also hard to figure out a scene that didn’t belong.
This goes without saying, but Andy Serkis once again gives a phenomenal performance as Caesar. His ability to give so much emotion within his facial expressions make this performance truly memorable. The ghost of Koba in Dawn still haunts Caesar, which adds to the conflict within himself. This exhausting war causes him fight his most important battle, and that is the fight to not become Koba. We have Woody Harrelson give a great performance (duh) as the antagonist, and while his character may come off as just pure evil, there is much more to him than that. This is why the narrative of each film in the trilogy stand out among other films as each character is so complex. We may have characters we want to root for, but we also understand everyone’s motivations and question who we want to ultimately prevail. Returning fan favorites such as Rocket and Maurice also return and add much depth into the relationships Caesar has. We also have a new character named Bad Ape, played by Steve Zahn. Now, Bad Ape was a risk considering the dark nature of the film, but his heart and humor added some much needed laughs to relieve ourselves of all the drama. The humor never once fell out of place either as Bad Ape is it’s used sparingly enough to never overstay it’s welcome.
Matt Reeves returns as director and his vision is once again realized. His attention to detail is impeccable, as his shots put so much focus on what’s important in each scene. The action set pieces are handled so well as they didn’t feel choppy and I was able to know what was always going on. Reeves achieves this goal by completely immersing audiences into this universe and it’s epic scope. The wide landscape shots of each new environment set the tone for each act. The production design is something to be in awe of, from the dark but lush forests in which apes reside in, to the haunting white snowy environments where most of the 3rd act takes place in.
From a technical standpoint, War is as close as one can get to perfection. I see no reason why this film can’t win a Visual Effects Oscar. The effects are then enhanced by Michael Seresin’s cinematography which paints a wonderful aesthetic to the tone of each scene. As stated before, War is a very bleak film and Seresin perfectly captures this with it’s color palette that haunts the entire film. This is complimented by the lack of any music within the film. There are long sequences of no score, which reflects the fact that this world is completely gone. We are able to feel the true raw emotions of these characters as we feel right there with them in the midst of it all.
War, or just this whole trilogy, is something I will continue to hold dear to me. It’s summer blockbuster that’s not a summer blockbuster at all. The layers of impressive film-making stack together to create a film which both film critics and audience can completely agree on. It has the visual effects of a high budget studio movie, but has the screenplay and cinematography of something we would see from an independent studio. I struggle to find things wrong with the film besides it’s length. Anything else would just be considered nitpicking. We are unsure of the future of the franchise, as the possibilities seem to be endless in this world that has been created. I for one will be completely satisfied with this conclusion as everything came full circle to something that will become a landmark in cinematic history for years to come. Also, nominate Andy Serkis for an Oscar, please and thank you!!