REVIEW: War of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Matt Reeves
By Christopher Spencer
Directed by Matt Reeves, War for the Planet of the Apes stars Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, and introducing Amiah Miller. It’s been 5 years since the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Caesar (Serkis) is pushed to his limits of protecting his people when he reaches the ultimate confrontation with a vicious human Colonel (Harrelson). The simian flu is evolving, Caesar is not the flawless leader he was held up to be in Dawn, and the raging war is unlike anything in human history.
War for the Planet of the Apes, like Rise and Dawn, is something beyond the simple summer blockbuster. Matt Reeves already proved that Dawn could please the masses and give us a piece of great cinema, and that precedence is enhanced with War.
Andy Serkis delivers what is his best performance ever, making motion-capture a more legitimate form of performance art with a constant sharp focus on emotional and physical expression. At no time was I watching a CGI model be acted out by a man in a gimp suit: Serkis’ Caesar is more than that. This is a total immersion into a character, built of masterful conviction and understanding.
Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is largely kept to the last half of the film, but he makes his presence known, with a Colonel Kurtz-meets-Amon Göth character that is a powerful, ruthless threat at all times. While Koba in Dawn was a more fleshed-out antagonist character, Harrelson’s Colonel is still a menacing and captivating villain.
War has the smallest human cast of any of the Planet of the Apes movies, which grants more loving focus to the ape characters. Amiah Miller is that human connection we need to understand the scope and visuals of the apes, and she doesn’t distract from how beautiful the characters like trilogy-regular Maurice (Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and the scene-stealing Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) are.
Matt Reeves solidifies himself as one of the most dramatically intelligent directors working today. His film blends special effects perfectly with gorgeous real locations, he draws every facet of emotion possible from his actor’s performances, and he delivers the same conviction to his work as Andy Serkis.
The visuals that have defined Rise and Dawn are the best ever here in War. Honestly, there is not a single frame of Caesar, Maurice or any apes that looks fake or incomplete. War is a visual masterwork, from perfect CGI to Michael Seresin’s cinematography that bleeds the influences of Doctor Zhivago’s precise shots of winter and the flowing, POV trench sequences in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory.
This film does have a few odd plot elements in places and it is built of two distinct halves, but it is a complete journey in the end for Caesar. Thanks to the mindblowing visuals, direction, writing, cinematography, Michael Giacchino’s best and saddest score since Up, and a masterpiece performance by Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes is a perfect, deeply emotional and heartbreaking end to a trilogy.