War for the Planet of the Apes Review
Apes. Together. Strong.
Blending Platoon with The Great Escape, War for the Planet of the Apes only partly delivers on its title, but certainly provides a fitting conclusion to a strong and impressive trilogy.Although Rise of the Planet of the Apes was not necessarily, at the time, well revered, with hindsight it was a solid and vital stepping stone towards the superior sequels. It was the much-needed origin story which allowed us to revel in the glory of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (although many would argue that their respective titles should, logically, have been reversed), which was a tremendous chapter, cementing the depiction of a band of evolved 'apes' as fully-rounded characters, as fleshed-out as their human counterparts, with the CG required to bring them to life near-perfect in its own evolution. It was a surprise blockbuster gem that allowed the inferior Rise to be a part of a grander whole.War for the Planet of the Apes takes us two years down the road after the fuse was lit by rebellious ape Koba in Dawn, defying tribal leader Caesar's desire to attempt some manner of co-existence with the surviving humans left on Earth, and instead setting the species on a collision course towards a winner-takes-all battle for control of the entire planet. With a rabid Colonel hell-bent on hunting down the fabled leader of the forest-dwelling super-species, and eradicating the 'threat' once and for all, Caesar must endure almost biblical trials if he wishes to somehow get his people - and his family - to the promised land, and away from those that are intent on wiping them out.
War kick-starts with a furious sequence that looks ripped from any classic war movie, only replacing one of the traditionally human sides with another species here. The dragging of wounded warriors out of the battlefield; the wounds and dressing; the wholesale slaughter, as well as the defensive manoeuvres and battle tactics all instantly transport us to visions of a dozen war movies before (so much so that you have to question the logic of a movie that attempts to get its audience to side with a tribe of apes as if they were human, but thinks its okay to depict violence against them which, had they been human, would never have made it under a 12A banner). It's fierce and harrowing, setting the stage for what many might veritably expect to be an all-out War for the Planet of the Apes, just as the title suggests.
However Matt Reeves' second sequel takes a surprise left turn for its second act. With the one-two punch of its opening assaults still ringing in your ears, it abandons any chance of holding true to its title in favour of a far more personal revenge narrative, trading war movie vibes for something far more Western in spirit (with perhaps even the nascent traces of a Wild Bunch quest for redemption in the making), before again changing tack for the next segment in its twisty-turny tale. It's a curious decision, largely betraying the 'War' of the title, and contorting it into a strange mutation; a blend of genres struck with disparate references to classic films across the spectrum (from Apocalypse Now to The Great Escape to Spartacus and Ben-Hur, with the director admitting to further influence from everything from The Outlaw Josey Wales to The Bridge on the River Kwai).
War for the Planet of the Apes certainly delivers a fitting conclusion to this consistent trilogy
Whilst this might come as a surprise, it's not wholly unwelcome, as Reeves mostly makes it work, helped no end by a rousing and powerful score (whose highs include hints of Bond and Inception, although the middle act Great Escape-esque tones are a little too light given the weight of the drama that unfolds), and uniformly fantastic CG which brings some great - and perfectly voiced/motion-captured - characters to life. Serkis once again nails Caesar - the scenes with his children alone will strip away any latent belief that these beings have any less humanity than ourselves - and he's well-matched by Woody Harrelson's Kurtz-esque Colonel, although kudos to Steve Zahn for arguably one of the surprise (voice) performances of the movie, as a slightly shell-shocked 'survivor'. Whilst plenty of the ape characters are almost cliches, that's arguably the point, as they're traditionally cliched human characters, further helping us get absorbed in this universe. And whilst Reeves' plan to blend genres feels, at the outset, a little shotgun in its approach, the mythical, Western-infused Biblical strands that coalesce as the feature goes on reveal a strong backbone that has secretly been holding the whole piece together.
With some tremendous set-pieces (although the high is probably the end of the first act, telegraphed in all the trailers to the movie), War for the Planet of the Apes certainly delivers a fitting conclusion to this consistent trilogy, even if it still sits below Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in terms of purity of narrative. It's a quietly great summer blockbuster, which maintains the quality of the series, and largely satisfies on every level. Whatever minor reservations you might have along the way should dissipate come the end, and there's no denying the lasting impact of both the film and its larger franchise as a whole. Highly recommended.
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