War For The Planet Of The Apes, the third and final film in the trilogy that began with the stellar Rise and followed by the epic Dawn, resonates with emotion, a deep, captivating story, well-crafted characters and spectacle without sacrificing entertainment value. It’s a film that rises far above summer blockbuster sequel conventions to deliver a tremendous film that should be the template for all action sci-fi drama films to follow. Matt Reeves has crafted a personal blockbuster that we will remember long beyond its box-office run.
Before the opening titles begin to roll, we’re reminded of the events that lead up to this monumental moment. It’s been two years since Caesar, the conflicted warrior leader of the primates, killed his best friend Koba, an act that still haunts him. The human race is slowly being erased from the planet due to a virus that they believe was caused by the rise of the apes. A renegade special forces team led by McCullough (a Brando-esque Woody Harrelson) battles against the more human-like and empathetic Caesar (masterfully portrayed by Andy Serkis) and his simian resistance to gain control. With a war on the horizon, Caesar, tormented by violence and unrest, begins to understand Koba’s unholy hatred for the humans. So begins Ape-pocalypse Now.
War For The Planet Of The Apes is a huge miracle for Hollywood. In an oversaturated pool of films that grasp at predictable and forgettable stories, it stands taller than the best of the best. Not only for its remarkable advancement in performance-capture action but for its incredible filmmaking techniques. Nobody would have predicted that a film that features mostly apes would become the most human blockbuster of the year so far. Reeves builds tension, allows the film to settle, develops the characters and lets the film breathe in quieter moments. It’s the stuff good films are made of.
With all that said, Serkis is the true hero of the franchise. He has developed the tormented Caesar into a film icon – a true Western hero in the Clint Eastwood vein. When Caesar’s heart breaks, the audience whimpers. When Caesar is angry, the audience beats their chest. That is truly a phenomenal feat considering that the character is mostly made up of digital graphics. It takes a truly gifted actor to develop a complex and deeply loved character like this. When it comes to performance-capture acting, Serkis has no peer. He deepens his work with the character by perfecting his painful, compassionate gaze. Most of the power in his abilities lie with his eyes.
The supporting cast does great work too. Harrelson does a wonderful job as the complicated Homo sapien who isn’t so much bad as he is desperate. Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape is a terrific addition and provides much of the humour in the shiver-inducing War For The Planet Of The Apes. Amidst all the seriousness, he manages to deliver a few laughs by monkeying around – which surprisingly is never out of place.
Reeves and co-writer, Mark Bomback, have vigorously combined elements of the biblical figure Moses and the story of Apocalypse Now to make War For The Planet Of The Apes truly stand out as something special. It’s not difficult to see the film as an allegory that examines serious issues facing the world today, including racism. In the end, it all plays out like a soul-searching revenge flick filled with action, emotion and gripping characters.
This is essential viewing! Apes. Together. Strong.