There have been plenty of reboots and remakes which have left sour tastes in the mouths of fans, but one of the true success stories is in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Taking the series in a different direction than the originals or Tim Burton’s attempt ten years prior, the story of Caesar won over audiences and continued with the stellar Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The trilogy of films comes to an end with the recently released War for the Planet of the Apes, but finishing a good trilogy on a high is one of the toughest things to do in film-making.
War for the Planet of the Apes is about how Caesar and the rest of the apes are surviving as the humans continue to wage war after the actions of Koba in the last movie. With humanity hanging on by a thread, Woody Harrelson’s character is out on the hunt for the apes. Caesar is forced to try and ensure the protection of his species, and goes out to hunt down the human leader who has been terrorising his kind.
Yet again the new Planet of the Apes movie amaze with the incredible detail and emotion portrayed in the CGI apes. It’s been a few years since ‘Dawn’, but what is achieved here by the animators is nothing short than astonishing. Caesar has never looked more real, and those advancements combined with Andy Serkis’ stellar motion capture work ensures we get one of the more fully fleshed out characters we’ve seen in a franchise film. It’s not just Caesar either. This is the current pinnacle of motion capture, and for that reason alone it’s a movie worth watching. All of the supporting apes feel and act real, sucking you into the world and drama surrounding them.
Caesar himself continues to have to shoulder the burden of leading and protecting his family, and just like in ‘Dawn’ the decisions he has to make can determine if the Apes live or die. The movie takes its time, allowing the audience to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders through much of this movie. He’s also a little more flawed as a character this time around, as the strains of leadership are beginning to show.
It’s not just Caesar that’s well realised though. With so much time devoted to the apes, we get several fascinating and fleshed out characters alongside Caesar, including a returning Maurice who continues to be the support that’s needed. Bad Ape could have been handled poorly and stuttered the story, but his comic relief works and in many ways enhances the bleak nature of the narrative. Even the few humans who get any time enjoy some interesting development, and credit has to be given to Amiah Miller, who plays the little girl and does a fantastic job for a thirteen year old, especially when you consider the conditions she had to work in (notably, pretending she was with a bunch of apes). More than either of the previous two movies – ‘War’ is about the apes -which is great because that’s where the crux of the heart is. We get enough out of Harrelson’s character and his supporting antagonists to make for a compelling threat, but it remains focused on Caesar and the battles he is going through.
The title ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ is honestly a little misleading. If you come in expecting an action movie, you’ll leave disappointed. There are moments here and there, but it’s a very carefully paced drama that occurs under a war-like setting. The action is solid, especially some early moments, but there is nothing quite as memorable as the raid on the compound in ‘Dawn’. The movie is at its best when it focuses on the challenges faced by Caesar and his group.
It’s difficult to finish a trilogy off in the right way, but War for the Planet of the Apes does just that. It’s a thrilling self contained story which also manages to serve as the third chapter in a grander story: that of Caesar. It’s wonderfully realised thanks to the technological work from animators and some brilliant direction and cinematography from Matt Reeves. War for the Planet of the Apes might not give a bombastic final chapter in terms of action, but it delivers at the heart and soul of what this rebooted series is all about.