‘WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES’ Review
Writer/director Matt Reeves took over the re-imagined Planet of the Apes franchise after Rupert Wyatt started the ball rolling. I was pleasantly surprised with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, bringing a grounded, emotional, exciting, and technologically mind blowing appeal to a notably campy, strange series. Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was better in nearly every way, expanding and building on the themes while greatly raising the stakes with a very logical but unexpected villain. Even better was that the bridge between motion captured apes and human characters was very, very minimal. I’m happy to report that War For the Planet of the Apes has approached a new level of realism that is unprecedented, all while maintaining the emotional depth and fantastic scope that made the second film so memorable.
It feels like a number of years have passed since the events of Dawn. Caesar (Andy Serkis) has lost the inspiring leadership after the conflict with Koba (Toby Kebbel). With military forces hunting the apes, hope is disappearing. After a strike on the apes in a midnight siege, Caesar’s life is changed and he embarks on a mission of vengeance. The vengeance is pointed at Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a character very influenced by Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. Colonel has defied what’s left of the US military and refuses to follow orders. In route, Ceasar and the few apes who insisted on accompanying him run across an adorable young girl later named Nova (Amiah Miller). Caesar’s decision to embark on an assassination mission leaves his apes vulnerable, which Colonel capitalizes on, and the small group of apes and Nova must do what they can to free the captives and fight back.
There is SO MUCH to love in this movie. First is the obvious enhancement of technology and how much minute detail and emotion Weta Digital is able to capture in the ape characters. Andy Serkis is yet again the best part of the Apes films, but the addition of Steve Zahn as Bad Ape nearly steal the show. Zahn’s childlike wonder and expressions are the much needed levity in a really dark story, and they’re flawlessly captured and timed. There are a few deaths in the film that really gut punched me, and being able to truly see what the actors are doing under the digital paint job, and the relationship between human and animal, is so genuinely touching. Speaking of which, a wordless performance by Amiah Miller as Nova is fantastic. Her face is so expressive and eyes just full of thought and feeling. It’s one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen. Also of note is the incredible sound design. If you’ve got a theater with Dolby Atmos near you, get ready for full immersion. I saw it without Atmos and I can’t wait to see it again with that technology. The opening of the film following a tribal-style 20th Century Fox intro, slowly builds from silence to actually feeling as you’re in a jungle. Moments later you have explosions and weapon fire coming at you in every direction, and it’s one of many examples that blew me away. The movie has one of the very best uses of sound placement and mixing I’ve ever experienced in a theater.
The final battle sees Colonel and his troops fight against not only the apes but another formidable force as well. It is absolutely spectacular. The biggest action sequence in any of the movies is punched up to another level with that sound mix, too. Reeves knows how to maintain a balance between the horror of war and the beautifully realized vision of it. Through the whole film, he maintains a methodical, spacious pace that allow for a fully realized story that never feels like it’s rushing to get to the next scene. One of the weak points of the movie is the length, but I never felt like any scene was hollow or needless. Everything was placed just so here, and Reeves’ top skills as a director (and in this case, a writer too) is building character.
I heard a few of the critics chatting in the lobby about how this story didn’t really progress here, but that wasn’t the point. The film marks a close to the arc that began in Rise, and sets up a new chapter for the apes and Nova that can literally go anywhere. The idea wasn’t to brace you for the next chapter, it was to finish the current one.
The bad news is that if Fox is going to maintain Reeves’ relationship with the franchise (and they absolutely should), they’re at the mercy of Warner Brothers and The Batman, a movie without a release date let alone a production start. My hope is that they commission a script from Reeves at the very least, and with the three year gap between Apes films it’s still possible he could wrap on Batman and return to direct. Whatever happens, whenever it happens, I will highly anticipate what’s next. You should too.
Everything that made the previous two entries so good is back, even further technically advanced, and so emotionally and physically visceral.
The pace is methodical and everything is given time to breathe, which may bother those expecting all those thrills from the trailers to be non-stop.