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War for the Planet of the Apes – Movie Review

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War for the Planet of the Apes – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

The way the new Planet of the Apes films have been building is an impressive feat. Nobody knew what to expect from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but it became a decent science-fiction film that laid the groundwork for future chapters. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes really built on the relationship between humans and intelligent apes, especially in examining Caesar’s uncertainty of which world he sides with more. War for the Planet of the Apes works as a fitting conclusion to this set of films, with director/co-writer Matt Reeves putting his own stamp on the franchise. The scope of this movie is handsomely mounted and while certainly bleak, it no less works in creating the proper escapism.

The previous Apes films had a central human figure interacting with Caesar. Woody Harrelson serves as an antagonist here, but it’s merely a supporting turn. This film belongs almost entirely with the apes. They are the point-of-view with which we see this world and at this point, it’s with them that Reeves’s sympathies lie. Caesar communicates in English, but only when he absolutely has to. Most of the script allows the apes to use sign language and it’s an admirable and bold direction for Reeves to go in. He shows a lot of respect for the audience and knows they don’t need heavy amounts of exposition to understand what is transpiring and what the apes are thinking.

A significant portion of War is a prisoner-of-war camp picture. All the apes want is freedom and the film shows their desperation. Reeves never shies away from the imagery presented, which recalls the story of Moses most of the time. When the movie turns into The Great Escape, Reeves delivers one excellent set-piece after another. Michael Giacchino provides a score which matches the tone perfectly and the filmmakers build cleverly on each part of the apes’ plan. The film does connect the dots for events in the first Planet of the Apes film, but they’re solidly woven in, rather than bashed over the audience’s head.

The technology used to bring the apes to life have improved with every film. Reeves uses a lot of close-ups in War and it’s remarkable we are not looking at real apes. We know they are using computer generated effects and motion capture, but the pixels are invisible. Visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri has done a tremendous job with making these apes look real. These Planet of the Apes films will be studied for many years on how to create realistic animals. No moment looks fake or created on a desktop. The actors behind the software also help in bringing these primates to the screen. Andy Serkis always seems at home within those blue pajamas, but Steve Zahn steals the show from underneath him. Primarily used as comic relief, his “Bad Ape” could have been an annoyance. However, Zahn brings a vulnerability and a sweetness to the role. In a rather dark film, Zahn and Amiah Miller’s mute human girl provide the necessary light and hope.

War for the Planet of the Apes is an impressively mounted production that takes some bold steps for a big-budget summer blockbuster. It nicely goes full circle back to the Franklin J. Schaffner classic, though one can see 20th Century Fox making a few more films to connect further with the one that started it all. These three current chapters feel connected as we feel we have watched this grand saga that has lasted fifteen years, in-universe. These films provide a strong cautionary tale about human hubris and our need to stay on top at all costs. While the films are technological feats, the filmmakers have never forgotten to create solid stories with strong character arcs. That’s why they will be remembered for more than just the revolutionary special effects.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison