a WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES musing
Not only praised for their stunning visuals, this APES prequel trilogy (starting with RISE in 2011, DAWN in 2014, and now WAR) emphasizes character to great effect. RISE caught me by surprise at how good it was, DAWN raised the bar, and WAR brings this franchise to a whole new stratosphere. From Andy Serkis’ brilliant performance as Caesar to the unexpected emotionality of the story, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES excels on every level.
Two years after the events of DAWN, Caesar still strives for peace with the humans. But with a military group, led by The Colonel (played intimidatingly well by the great Woody Harrelson), on the path to destroy Caesar’s clan, Caesar must confront the humans and protect his kind. It’s surprising how quiet this movie gets; the title is a bit misleading, but also represents the war going on in Caesar’s mind. Does he let his animal side win like Koba did, or will he able to let a grudge go and be inherently good like the humans that raised him? He wrestles with this throughout the movie, and Serkis’ performance really lets you into Caesar’s mind. The CG involved with making these apes come to life has only gotten better since the prequel series started in 2011. It’s jarring to see them talk at first because they look completely real. This franchise has pushed the limits of motion capture technology, but the real heart and emotion comes from Serkis. It’s his face making those small facial movements, with the CG only there to put an ape face on top of his. Something tells me that his Oscar campaign has a lot more relevancy this year…
Another strong candidate for an Oscar (or at least for a Marzon-YEAH! Award) is Woody Harrelson, who turns in one of the most despicable villains on screen. We’ve grown attached to the apes over the course of the series, and to see The Colonel tear into them is disheartening. His psyche and motives are explored, but it’s hard to not discuss them without going into spoilers, which I won’t delve into. (Mainly because those plot points involving him really made me recontextualize everything before it.) The Colonel’s arc is incredible, and Harrelson really gets the most out of every scene he’s in. All the other motion capture actors were great, with Steve Zahn as Bad Ape standing out. As the light comic relief of the movie, Bad Ape’s comedic beats are a bit odd tonally compared to the rest of the movie, but they’re so charming, it’s hard not to love them. The orangutan Maurice is lovely as usual, while newcomer Amiah Miller is added to the list of awesome young actresses who just have those piercing eyes and a great look (i.e. Millie Bobby Brown from STRANGER THINGS, Dafne Keen from LOGAN).
But the strengths in WAR don’t only lie in front of the camera. The director, Matt Reeves (future director of THE BATMAN), lets quiet moments really breathe, lets them take their time to reveal smaller character beats via their reactions. Reeves has a great handle on character, pace, and tension. And wow, does he do tension well. There’s always a feeling of dread around every unknown corner, and the movie really makes you feel that in your bones. Michael Giacchino’s score accentuates these moments extremely well, especially at the end where the melody and feel of the song changes in an instant. It’s really a brilliant piece of work. I usually don’t pay attention to musical scores until further viewings of a movie, but these themes really stuck with me, and that’s how I know it’s good.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES solidifies this prequel series as one of the best trilogies ever made. Each movie can stand on its own, but they all create an extraordinary arc for Caesar. With a wonderful script, WAR emphasizes the religious and social themes and parallels to our world today of Caesar’s story. This movie is a slow burn that culminates in a triumphant, fitting and elegant finishes to one of the superior trilogies in film history.
RATING: BEST OF THE BEST
(Refer to my rating system HERE!)