Review - 'War for the Planet of the Apes'
I've got to say; I love it when a great trilogy comes together. War for the Planet of the Apes, the third Planet of the Apes film in the new prequel/reboot series is everything I hoped it would be, and that's coming from someone who approaches threequels with heavy trepidation. There's good reason for my hesitance though; how many trilogies out there that have hit the nail on the head three times in a row? Yes, there are a few, but not nearly as many when compared to the garbage heap of misfires.
After a raid spearheaded by Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrellson) leaves Ceasar's (Andy Serkis) wife and oldest son dead, Ceasar is no longer willing to be merciful with the humans that aggressively oppose him. He, along with a small troop of his most trusted apes attempt to infiltrate McCullough's base, but when Caesar is captured along with his entire colony of apes, he must find a way to save them all and get revenge on the tyrannical man that has stolen so much from him.
Not only is War for the Planet of the Apes a great third film, it's the best in the series, which is no small feat when you consider how great Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was. Matt Reeves was already an adept filmmaker before this production, but it's clear that he has shown significant growth in the three years since the previous film. There's a nuance and subtle beauty to War that is immersive and powerful. I couldn't believe that I was watching a $150 million production that was more focused on capturing heavy, emotional themes and small character moments than it was shooting off pretty, albeit empty fireworks.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a movie that puts characters before everything else. War has laser-point focus when it comes to making sure you understand and support its main character, Ceaser. Andy Serkis, along with some of the best special effects work I've ever seen, brings a fully-realized Ceaser to life. There was not a moment in this movie where I questioned this characters existence, he's just there. In addition to this, the arch he's given here is compelling and completes Caeser's story in a very satisfying and emotional way.
The rest of the cast is no slouch either. Woody Harrelson plays Colonel McCullough, and he's easily the most menacing and cruel villain we've yet scene in this series of films. What makes him great is that he has a believable backstory that justifies the characters ruthless and unpredictable behavior. Every moment he was on-screen I feared what he would do. Nothing is off-limits in the film. Also worth mentioning is Steve Zahn, who plays "Bad Ape". Zahn commits fully to the character, performing all of the voice and motion capture work. He could have been the typical comedic relief, but turned out to be so much more.
Another thing that makes War for the Planet of the Apes great is the sheer finality of it. For once, we have a film that feels conclusive and has no interest in teasing future installments. I felt like everything was laid out of the table and nothing was held back. By the end of this film I had experienced a full, complete journey that answered all of my lingering questions and tied up plot-lines in a very satisfying fashion. In addition to this, despite the film's inherent dark, grim nature, there is so much heart. I felt for these apes and I wanted Caesar to succeed.
I mentioned it already, but it bears mentioning again. The visuals in this film are absolutely jaw-dropping. Rise and Dawn were already great looking films that advanced CGI technology in a significant way, but War is borderline flawless. The apes and their behavior and expressions are so convincing that I forgot I was watching something that wasn't real. These characters are so fully realized that I almost believed them more than the flesh-and-blood humans that occupied the world. On top of all this, the cinematography is gorgeous, there's not one shot in this film that doesn't look exceptional. Finally, the score by Michael Giacchino is beautiful and easily one of best he's ever composed. There's an old-fashioned and majestic feel the music that captures the tone of the film perfectly.
In terms of flaws, there really aren't many to speak of. I suppose the third act has a few issues, mainly in the form of events happening conveniently that help tie the series up in a nice, pretty bow. Still, it's hard to fault these moments because of the emotional heft associated with them. Despite how cleanly everything comes together in the end, I really wouldn't take any of these moments out.
War for the Planet of the Apes is easily one of my favorite films of the year and will go down as one of the best films to end a trilogy. All of the emotional beats are spot-on, and every character gets their due. The movie is stunningly beautiful and captures everything that has made this series such a joy to watch over the years. War for the Planet of the Apes should not be missed by anyone.