In 2011 audiences were treated to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Rupert Wyatt and starring James Franco, John Lithgow, and Andy Serkis. This film introduced us to the character known as Caesar (Serkis) a young chimp who was part of an experiment that could potentially cure Alzheimer’s. During the experiment, an unforeseen side effect happened, and Caesar became super intelligent. Another side effect, however, is a virus that decimates the human populace. After many years in seclusion with his own kind and building a successful community Caesar and his apes happen across humans in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This time directed by Matt Reeves Dawn of the Planet of the Apes followed the events of the first encounter with apes and humans who were both at a crossroads in their respective race’s survival. After the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes leave both sides with casualties and a growing tension between the humans and apes. Now in War for the Planet of the Apes, a military force has been deployed to deal with Caesar and his community. Leading this military force is Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) who is a fanatical military leader hoping to eradicate Caesar and the apes which he sees as an affront to humankind and its place in the species hierarchy.
This review is possibly one of the easiest reviews I’ve had to write. War for the Planet of the Apes is a masterpiece. Between the incredible cinematography, the harrowing performances and the above and beyond CGI this film is firing on all cylinders. While I’m on the subject of the CGI, never have I been more impressed with the quality of the animation on the apes from this series. The franchise has always been known for its hauntingly realistic portrayal of the apes, but in this latest film, the quality is on a whole other level. War for the Planet of the Apes deserves awards for the motion capture performances from Serkis and his supporting cast. Caesar is once again an incredible presence, and from the first time he arrives on screen, he has you in his thrall. Serkis brings yet another layer to this character he has inhabited for six years, after all, it’s rare that audiences see a character from childhood to adulthood and Serkis has been there every step of the way, and you can see it in his performance. He’s grown as an individual, and his motivations in this film are so compelling and genuine that you understand what he does and why he does it, and that’s an aspect that works for the franchise as a whole as you understand where ever character is coming from. No one is a real villain because in everyone’s universe they are their own hero and that is exemplified best in the latest antagonist of the Apes franchise; Colonel McCullough played with gusto by Woody Harrelson.
McCullough is an incredible adversary, especially if you look back at the previous two instalments. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes Tom Felton’s character was the only true force of evil in the film and in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, there was Koba (Toby Kebbell) the traitorous partner of Caesar. McCullough is a force of nature, uncompromising and he rules his army with an iron first. As well as all these named actors there has to be a special mention to Amiah Miller, who makes her acting debut in War for the Planet of the Apes. She plays a human companion to Caesar and his allies, and even though she has no dialogue she is incredible, giving a heartwarming and endearing performance.
Returning once more to the directing chair is Matt Reeves, and he once again brings many nuanced layers to War for the Planet of the Apes that elevates the story to an incredible level. Between the symbolism of Caesar to his people to the many facets of the actions of man, there are several elements that are eerily familiar to people who are watching the political scene of the world right now. I cannot praise Reeves enough for what he has done with this film. He went a different route with the narrative, an unexpected route that some audiences may not appreciate but others may gravitate towards. He chooses the story of Caesar and his impact on this planet instead of going for a full-on war film and it’s a bold and impressive decision one I applaud. After this film, Caesar will go down as an icon in cinematic protagonists and this is all attributed to the ensemble of writers, directors and most importantly Andy Serkis.
War for the Planet of the Apes is an outstanding film, a masterclass in performances, cinematography, and directing and is easily the best film of the summer. War for the Planet of the Apes is the one of those rare moments in cinema, a consistent and impressive trilogy, from start to finish. In the words of Caesar “Apes Together Strong.”