It should be noted that prior to this review, my expectations for War for the Planet of the Apes were astronomically high. I was excited as soon as I heard there would be a sequel, but once the first trailer dropped in December, I knew War would become one of my top three anticipated films of 2017. So, eight months after its first trailer, how did War fare? To put it simply, unbelievably fantastic. Directed by a returning Matt Reeves from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War is set five years following the events of Dawn, with Caesar (Played to absolute perfection by the great Andy Serkis), now set on path of revenge following a brutal attack on his home and people by a ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson ya’ll!).
The performances in this movie are the best I’ve seen this year. It’s a both testament to the actor’s credit, and to the visual effect artists that this looks as stellar as it does in terms of range that the apes give. Returning once again to deliver another powerhouse performance, Andy Serkis crushes as Caesar. In many ways Serkis outshines his previous outing for the sheer emotion he brings. From immensely sad, to pure hatred, everything that Caesar does in this film is felt. This became evident in the beginning after an ambush by the Colonel and his men, when a blow is sent to Caesar that brought me to tears. His anguish, turned rage turns on a dime and you feel it. Serkis does not relent, and it will become a crime if at minimum he’s not nominated for an Oscar come next year.
Speaking of the Colonel, Woody Harrelson does what he does best and nearly steals the movie from Serkis as the cold-blooded Colonel. Now admittedly he only shows up in the beginning, and then is saved to the last half of Act Two, yet the wait is well worth it. If Apocalypse Now had been made in 2017, I have no doubt Harrelson would have been cast as Colonel Kurtz. His character is essentially his version of Kurtz, from the cult like men he commands, to his nihilist viewpoint in which the means justify the ends. Besides looking like, him from a visual standpoint, Harrelson evokes a calm terror about himself. This is mainly done with the usage of his eyes, and by God, they show a sense of crazy and intelligence all in one. There’s a scene where he’s talking to Caesar and he goes from manic to sympathetic, all in one, and it’s perfect. He’s terrifying in the sense that he commands these men who see him as a god, who will go to any length to ensure his vison of humanity comes to fruition and won’t bat an eye at the pain and horror they inflict on others. But there is tragedy to him. Though I won’t spoil it here, he has a backstory that is one-part heartbreaking and another shocking. The relationship between the two is staggering, and when it comes to it heartbreaking conclusion, you’ll feel for both of them.
Newcomer Steve Zahn plays Bad Ape, a new character whose origins signal an incoming change for Caesar’s apes and their worldview. Though I found him weird at first, I grew to really appreciate how off kilter Bad Ape was, and I can’t wait to see where his character goes next. Both Karin Konoval and Terry Notary return as Maurice and Rocket respectively, acting as Caesar confidants in his time of crisis. Both of their roles are significantly beefed up from the previous two films, as they have very active roles throughout the movie. Maurice is a direct contrast to Caesar in many ways, showing compassion and thoughtfulness to Caesar’s brashness and newfound anger. It should be noted that both of them have several scenes that came close to giving me a damn heart attack due to the peril they found themselves in. Authors Note: I fucking love Maurice.
Unlike Dawn, War has a fairly simplified plot. Yet that is not to its detriment. En route to the Colonel’s base, Caesar and his band of misfits come across a young girl (played to silent perfection by Amiah Miller), who Maurice eventually nicknames Nova. Her character and condition becomes very much essential to the plot later on in the film, and like Bad Ape, will become integral to the widespread lore of the universe. Once the group does finally face the Colonel and his Alpha-Omega army, things begin to ratchet up. The Planet of the Apes films are known for their social commentary, and this was something that was once again reiterated to the franchise with Rise, but became much more relevant and timely with Dawn and its handling of gun control. Like its predecessor, the issues that War tackles are very in tune for today in the Trump era. Namely that being of communication, and like Arrival, War reiterates that sometimes if we just stop and talk to one another, maybe things can get done. This is to say nothing of Alpha-Omega’s treatment of apes and how their abused, along with the Donkeys they have in their employ (Apes who sided with Koba from the previous film, but then ran to the Colonel out of fear of Caesar’s retaliation). The metaphor there is simple: Race relations. And whether past or present, it is always a prevalent subject matter.
War for the Planet of the Apes is exactly what I thought it would be and so much more. From Matt Reeve’s direction, to Michael Giacchino’s emotionally bombastic score (Give Exodus Wounds a listen, and try not to cry), War fires on all cylinders. It is a shame that such a fine trilogy capper got released in between so many blockbusters, with Spiderman: Homecoming, Dunkirk, and Valerian, as it’s box office intake could have been so much more. Either way I encourage everyone who reads this to make all haste to see it immediately. It’s my favorite movie of the year and its not to be missed! Here’s to hoping Reeves has got a few more Ape films left in him.