War for the Planet of the Apes is the second movie this year to feature an angry-looking ape who just wants to be left alone as the central character following Kong: Skull Island and I’m beginning to fear the market is becoming over-saturated with such films. Nevertheless, War brings the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy to a satisfying conclusion with a visually impressive, poignant story; one that has earned itself the highest rating of the three movies according to popular movie-rating websites like Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps the ape bubble is not quite ready to burst yet.
I’m not typing out the entire title
Personally, I think War ranks just below Dawn – the second in the trilogy – but above Rise. You might remember that Dawn ended on something of a cliff-hanger with Caesar steeling himself and his tribe for an onslaught from human soldiers stationed at a military base up north after Gary Oldman and co. relayed a message that they needed help defending themselves from invading simians.
War begins with a company of the aforementioned soldiers bearing down on an ape stronghold in search of their leader. Caesar, ever the diplomat, tries to offer mercy to his human counterpart, simply referred to as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). But, Peace Treaty of the Planet of the Apes is not a very catchy title so the humans reject Caesar’s proposal to end hostilities and instead set the ape, previously only concerned with protecting his kind, on a vendetta to avenge them.
3D glasses are perfect for hiding misty eyes
I would not be surprised if director Matt Reeves and his team’s mandate was “do everything you can to make people shed a tear.” And it’s hard not to when you see a poor horse having to bear the weight of a 400-pound gorilla while galloping through the snow or seeing apes subjected to the cruelty of The Colonel and his men. The intent to evoke the strongest emotional response is clear in almost every scene and it works, even in one instance when it feels rushed and not necessarily earned.
Once again, the nuanced emotions of the apes expressed through motion capture are nothing short of astounding and are paramount in the audience feeling sympathetic towards Caesar – expertly played again by Andy Serkis – and his group. In addition, the apes themselves are incredibly photo-realistic and not once can I remember descending into the uncanny valley.
It’s not completely depressing
War is dark and violent, often testing the limits of the PG-13 rating and I can’t wait for Reeves to imbue his Batman movie with a similar essence. I know DC has been tending towards the lighter side of late with Wonder Woman and the rumoured Justice League reshoots but you can’t stray too far from the darkness with the caped crusader or you’ll end up with a Batman and Robin.
However, the visually incredible environments – dense forests, peaceful beaches and snow covered wilderness – serving as the backdrop for the film help to offset the sombre nature of the story and comic relief is scattered throughout the movie, usually courtesy of one genuinely funny character – Bad Ape, played by Steve Zahn.
Woody Harrelson, as the Colonel, is the only human character of note aside from the little girl seen in promotional material, Nova. About two-thirds of the way into the movie he gives a bloated exposition perhaps intended to help the audience empathise with the plight of a species desperate to stave off their own extinction but it only really clears up some mysteries in the overall story as everyone is staunchly on the side of the apes at this point.
I would be content if this trilogy was left alone for the time being but I know Fox is going to be tempted to milk this franchise for all it’s worth, probably by remaking the original Planet of the Apes movie. But if they can maintain the high standards set by Dawn and War, that is, strong storytelling and terrific visuals without the over-reliance on mind-numbing blockbuster action set-pieces, then I am all for it.