The climax to 20th Century Fox’s Planet of the Apes prequel franchise is here. This was my second most anticipated film of the year. I loved both Rise and Dawn and since those films I have been eagerly awaiting the climax to Caesar’s story.
This film picks up two years after Dawn, where a war has begun between mankind and the apes. Caesar (Andy Serkis) is still trying to protect the apes and avoid the chaos of war. But after an encounter with human soldiers, Caesar is forced to wrestle with his darker instincts as he begins a quest to save his kind.
This instalment is harrowingly intense right from the opening shot and it maintains that intensity throughout. I will never forget the technical grandeur of the opening sequence. In terms of the musical score, visual effects, action, cinematography and intensity it is impeccable and to be honest, that can also be said for the rest of the film as well. I actually struggled to eat my popcorn, especially during the opening sequences because I was completely transfixed with the events occurring on screen. It felt like I was hyponotised, I was so invested with every single scene that eating my popcorn became an after thought.
This is a very slow film, the pace is dialled right down. I feel as if people who aren’t as invested in the story and characters will find this to be frustrating. Me on the other hand, I think this choice was a risk that absolutely paid off. It’s quite remarkable to have a summer blockbuster that isn’t afraid to take things this slow, so that the themes and conflicts can be fully explored. Some scenes end up being much longer than you may expect them to be, but it turns out to be a major benefit to the film as a whole. The first half in particular is fairly quiet dialogue wise, the visuals and the musical score drive the storytelling which provides this film with it’s own unique feel, even in comparison to the previous two instalments of this trilogy.
Now I don’t need to tell you the visual effects are astounding you already know that, but at the same time I refuse to ignore the level of artistry on display just because I expected that level of quality. Every single visual effects artist at Weta Digital should be tremendously proud of what they have achieved. The attention to detail on the apes have never been better. Everything from the texture of their skin to each individual piece of fur felt like it received equal attention and care from the artists. The visuals effects blend seamlessly with the real life environments they are placed in. I tried to write this review without mentioning the Academy Awards, but if this film doesn’t at the very least win for Best Visual Effects then that would be a crime.
Andy Serkis also deserves award recognition and has done for a while now. In each instalment he has peeled back and explored a deeper layer of Caesar. In this film we really get to delve into his psyche, he’s troubled and conflicted by the current events of the film but also by the events of Dawn’s climax, and even without much dialogue Serkis brings it all to life with such finesse. He is superb at using the muscles in his face to convey many different ranges of emotion. For me Caesar is without a doubt one of cinemas greatest characters and his arc in this trilogy is emotionally enthralling.
Woody Harrelson portrays The Colonel, leader of the human army that are waging war against Caesar. He had a striking screen presence and managed to walk the line between being hardened yet tragically vunerable at his core. His performance and motivations struck me as being clearly influenced by Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in Apocalyspe Now (funnily enough shortly after I started to think that, the film showcased a not so subtle visual reference to Apocalyspe Now in the form of text written on a wall) His character turned out to have far more depth than I had expected, and as the film reached it’s climax he even added a layer of poignancy to the role.
This film even more so than the rest heavily focuses on the apes, so the majority of the cast that get the most screen time are all apes. Everyone was excellent, every performance felt believable. The motion capture work on display is outstanding. One of the new additions to the cast is Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who is an intriguing character that expands upon our current knowledge of the various apes who were effected by the virus. He also has a couple light moments of comedic relief that did not disrupt the atmosphere of the rest of the story.
Aside from exploring a more conflicted Caesar, the script does an impeccable job of balancing a number of different themes through out the narrative. This film does have the word War in the title but the battle aspects of war are not the focus. Instead it focuses on what war can do to the mind, how it can break someone down and turn someone against their own morals, It’s truly compelling. There’s a large amount religious symbolism and war imagery amongst the film that still manages to remain subtle despite it’s quantity. I can’t really delve into that imagery as much as I’d like due to spoilers, but there’s biblical influences as well as Nazi war influences that all culminate in crafting one of the most powerfully impactful experiences I’ve ever had in the cinema. I also like how certain elements of this film mirror events that occurred in the first film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It felt like the film naturally came full circle. We also find out more information about the virus and what it is currently doing to humans, I found that aspect of the narrative to be rather chilling and somewhat disturbing.
Matt Reeves did an exceptional job directing this film and the director of photography Michael Seresin framed everything beautifully. Many of the shots with the Apes remain very close to their faces so that we can really get up close and personal with their emotion. The tone of the film is very bleak and sombre from the very first frame, the manner in which Reeves utilises that tone to tell this story is fantastic. The war sequences sounded thunderous and they looked breathtaking, like I said before there isn’t many of those sequences but those scenes are all the more riveting because of that.
I love Michael Giacchino’s score. It drives the story when there’s minimal dialogue. He also fuses together more contemporary sounds, with stripped down primal sounds that pay homage to score from the orginial films.
The only problem I have with the film is the final ten minutes, the last ten minutes weren’t handled as competently as the rest of the film. Considering how slow the films pace moved through out, and how the filmmakers weren’t afraid to take their time to develop things, it then felt a little perplexing that it wrapped everything up so quickly towards the end.
Overall War for the Planet of the Apes is an extraordinary piece of cinema. Every technical aspect of the film was impeccably excecuted to craft an intelligent summer blockbuster that will strike you at your core emotionally. This is a remarkable climax to the Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy, which for me is now one of the best trilogies of all time.
(5 Stars out of 5)
War for the Planet of the Apes; Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer and Terry Notary.
Directed by Matt Reeves.
Now showing in U.K. Cinemas and Opens in U.S. Cinemas on July 14th.