(Submitted by a truly hardcore fan of the entire Ape-y series, Mr. Anton Phibes…Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, ya dang dirty human!! 😉 xoxo)
We’ve all been to the Planet of the Apes before. Many times, in fact. The first visitation was in 1968 and it was a most magnificent trip. We made frequent stays throughout the ’70s. All were incredibly lovely, but lacking the majesty of the first. After a long hiatus, we journeyed back with Tim Burton in 2004, but I think we’d rather forget about that one. Our last two “Ape” vacations were pleasant enough, but I feared that the magic was gone. They certainly looked nice, but there was nothing really memorable about them. That’s why It is with great pleasure that I report that War for the Planet of the Apes is not only a fantastic return to the Planet, but perhaps the best since the first.
War for the Planet of the Apes is still very much a Planet of the Apes, but the “War” aspect is very prominent . The film takes inspiration from war movie classics like The Great Escape, Bridge on the River Kwai (based on a novel from the author of Planet of the Apes), and Apocalypse Now. Odd influences for a science fiction film, but it all works so very well. And while War of the Planet of the Apes does indeed draw from these sources, it still feels very much like its own film.
Picking up not long after the previous film, the movie depicts the further escalation of the conflict between ape and man. The ape clan, led by the chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis), is at war with a military faction known as Alpha-Omega, lead by The Colonial (Woody Harrelson) Not wanting to suffer any more ape casualties, Caesar plans to relocate the clan from San Francisco to the desert. However, on the the night before their journey, the apes are attacked by Alpha-Omega, who kill Caesar’s wife and child. Filled with rage, Caesar begins a quest to avenge his kind.
The film is truly spectacular in every sense of the word. There’s a grandness to the entire picture, not dissimilar to the epics of David Lean. Director Matt Reeves does a masterful job balancing summer movie thrills, genuine suspense, and moving drama, even offering moments of silence that add weight to the proceedings. Reeves maintains a dark tone, but tempers it with moments of beauty. War for the Planet of the Apes is a grim film in some respects, but it offers hope and still serves as a rousing display of ape-based action.
Of course, a planet like this is only as good as the apes that inhabit it. And these apes are among the most human in the entire franchise. All of the ape actors are incredible and imbue their simians with personality, but the movie rightfully belongs to Andy Serkis. Serkis was fantastic in the previous entries, but his performance is downright perfect here. His face, his emotions, and his power all shine brightly through the digital make-up. It’s easy for one to forget that Serkis is actually a human in real life. If any modern performer comes close to the magic that Lon Chaney had, it’s Andy Serkis.
As Caesar’s great enemy, Woody Harrelson is dynamite. Fearsome, cold, brutal… Harrelson’s Colonel is beyond chilling at times. Along with this version of Caesar, I believe The Colonel is destined to become one of the icons of this franchise. Newcomer Amiah Miller is beyond endearing as the mute Nova, named for Linda Harrison’s role in the first two original PotA. She often steals the scene without saying a word, although she does get to sign a few.
War for the Planet of the Apes ends on a landscape that brings to mind the original film, hinting at what lies ahead. If they do another sequel, I will certainly see it. But I think they should end the reboot franchise here. I can’t imagine a more beautiful conclusion to this franchise than this. If this ends up being our last trip to the Planet of the Apes, I’d be more than satisfied. Hail Caesar.