Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn
Director: Matt Reeves
Running Time: 140 mins
War For The Planet Of The Apes is an American film and the third in the Planet Of The Apes series. Fifteen years after Caesar led the first uprising of apes against humans, the highly-advanced primates are now on the back foot, living in hiding in the woods from a ruthless colonel that aims to wipe all apes off the face of the planet forever.
Not only was this an absolutely fascinating film, but such a unique and refreshing one in the midst of all of Hollywood’s blockbusters. The development from Rise to Dawn has hinted at a increasing level of darkness in the series, but the bleak and incredibly silent nature of War Of The Planet Of The Apes makes it feel so much more like a tender drama than a big action blockbuster, something that absolutely thrilled me from start to finish.
But let’s start with what you already know: the story. As the trilogy has built up over the last two films, this is a prequel to the establishment of the Planet Of The Apes in the far future, and this film is where all of that conflict between man and apekind comes to a head. However, while Rise was an exciting blockbuster, and Dawn brought some brutal and dark action to the table, War is a completely different animal.
For one, the focus is entirely different. While the first two films divided the story between looking at how the humans cope with the threat of the apes, and how the apes have grown and evolved to a point where they have been able to start a war for control of the planet, this third film is almost completely focused on the apes’ story, and the humans are one hundred percent the villains.
That is an absolutely fascinating premise, and it’s executed perfectly. The main story follows Caesar, three other apes, and a young human girl who they rescue, as they seek out a colonel with ambitions to make their species extinct.
What’s brilliant about this story is that it all plays out like a very smart and calm drama, rather than a big action movie. Throughout the entire film, there are only two big action sequences, and the remaining 90% or so is simply following these characters across the forested landscapes of America as they attempt to save their species from annihilation.
And this is where the most interesting part of the film comes in. While the story does brilliantly to further develop the character of Caesar, its parallels to real wars are absolutely fascinating. Above all, there’s a significant connection between the events that unfold in this movie, and the horrors of the Holocaust during World War Two. Of course, this film doesn’t offer anywhere near the emotional power and trauma that a true Holocaust movie can do, but what it does do is bring a very sobering and pretty bleak story to light in what looks on the surface like a simple blockbuster.
What’s more is that the film takes numerous cues from famous war movies of the ages. There are clear parallels to films like Schindler’s List, but also numerous POW films such as Bridge On The River Kwai and The Great Escape. All put together, with a genuinely fascinating story about Caesar as a character, it makes for one of the most riveting and tender war films you’ve seen in a very long time.
Moving away from the story, the visuals are also exceptional. The film is shot beautifully, and its setting in the snowy mountains of Northwestern California lends a certain calmness that fits perfectly with the film’s dramatic story. And of course, there’s the incredible CGI, using motion capture technology to its full potential, making the apes look vibrant and hugely realistic, and very convincing lead characters for the entire film.
And as well as that, the use of motion capture allows for some real emotion to come through in their characters. With another excellent performance from Andy Serkis as Caesar, you get an incredible sense of his feelings of exasperation and sadness at the state of affairs in the midst of this war, and through that performance, the bulk of the film’s emotional and dramatic heft really comes through strongly, adding significantly to its intrigue throughout.
On the whole, War For The Planet Of The Apes is an absolutely fantastic film. Directed sublimely by Matt Reeves, it’s easily the best of the trilogy, offering a riveting, intelligent and emotionally powerful story that far exceeded my expectations from what I thought would be an action blockbuster. Its visuals are stunning, its performances are excellent, and it even ties into the original 1968 movie well, but above all, it’s that calm and composed dramatic story that makes this film stand out so much, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.5.