Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes
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PLOT: Caesar (Andy Serkis) pursues a mad Colonel (Woody Harrelson) whose hatred of the Apes threatens to wipe them out once and for all.

REVIEW: It’s unusual for a major studio to be so aggressive in showcasing a big tentpole movie so long before opening day. When something needs to build word-of-mouth, that’s one thing - but a movie like WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES comes with a huge built-in audience that would go see it either way. After all, the last one made over half a billion dollars. Yet, Fox is clearly aware that they have more in this third installment of the series than just another sequel, explaining all the screenings that have been happening nationwide over the last few weeks. When something screens this far in advance outside of film festivals, it usually means the film is amazing, and sure enough, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES ranks up there with WONDER WOMAN as an example of blockbuster film-making done just right.

This is director Matt Reeves’s second film in the rebooted Planet of the Apes series, and a significant leap from the last, well-received DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, which was pretty damn good. It’s crazy how this trilogy has grown out of a movie, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, that actually had to deal with some pretty noxious buzz before it came out, only to become a surprise hit when it opened in theaters. The second film built on what was right with the first, namely Ceasar, as played by Andy Serkis’s, journey and this completes that arc. If the first was about Ceasar getting smart, and the second about Caesar becoming a leader, this one is about him becoming a legend, or myth in his culture. It also lays the groundwork for the ‘68 PLANET OF THE APES, and gives us some real clues into how Earth actually became the planet of the apes, even more so than in the last film.

Significantly, there are no human protagonists this time. Even the last one had Jason Clarke and Keri Russell shoehorned-in as human characters, but this is Serkis’s vehicle all the way. With Caesar fully verbal by this point, we don’t need humans - he’s already more human than any of the ones we’ve seen so far, a sly comment on the overall arc, which firmly puts you on the side of the Apes without any gray area. They’re clearly the ones we’re supposed to be rooting for, and Serkis is the key, giving a performance as Caesar that will no doubt once again kick-start the conversation about whether or not mo-cap performances should be considered for Oscars. If you think not - give this a watch. You may walk out feeling a lot differently.

It’s a huge step-forward for Reeves as a director to boot. Watching it, I couldn’t help but think this is the same kind of leap a guy like Christopher Nolan did between BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT. He was already a fantastic director, but WAR makes me think he may be one of the great ones working today, and DCEU fans will be psyched to see what he does with THE BATMAN once this comes out. Suffice to say, the franchise is in good hands.

What’s crazy impressive here is how Reeves has made this so character-based. The others were too, but this is even more so, with very little concern being paid to big action set-pieces. There are certainly a few of those, notably at the end, but rather than sprinkle them in here and there like he did in DAWN, Reeves is confident enough in his abilities to make this a quiet, slower-burn, something that pays off as you become so invested in Caesar’s dark journey towards his eventual meet with the Colonel, who starts off as his kind of white whale, and later becomes someone he begins to relate to all too much. Serkis is outstanding, but it also needs to be said that the Weta FX, which were always great, are particularly good here. This needs to be seen on a huge screen under the best of projection conditions, as the VFX work is so delicate - with the ape fur and features having never looked so real. This is a massive leap forward in FX work, and the WETA team here will almost certainly take home Oscars for the game-changing work. This is really the best CGI I’ve ever seen, helped immensely by the mo-cap actors, including Serkis, Steve Zahn, who contributes perhaps the only moments of levity as “Bad Ape”, and Karin Konoval as Maurice. The apes are rounded out by a non-verbal human survivor, Amiah Miller’s Nova, who the Apes rescue on their journey.

As the antagonist, Harrelson’s performance ranks with the best of his career, and while many are comparing him to Brando’s Colonel Kurtz, there’s more to it than that - giving him some shading that I didn’t anticipate. He’s certainly the villain, but he doesn’t think he is, and Harrelson draws on his talent in a way that’s beyond the norm. Sometime actors of his caliber treat these movies as a lark - but Harrelson has clearly gone deep in a way that pushes the envelope even more. All these elements, plus a possible career-best score from Michael Giacchino, make WAR OF THE PLANET OF THE APES one of the great modern tentpole movies, marred only by one choice where too much exposition is laid out, in a way that makes me think that, at the eleventh hour, a decision was made to meet audiences half-way in terms of making it simple. They didn’t need to - you could have cut this whole scene where Harrelson lays-out exactly what’s happening to mankind, and we would have gotten it. Suffice to say, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is among the best films of the year, and a blueprint for how movies made on this scale should be made. It's gorgeous to look at and exciting, but it’ll also hit you on an unexpectedly emotional level - and stick with you after.

Source: JoBlo.com



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