War for the Planet of the Apes- Movie Review

I always say that if I had a time machine, I’d go back and attend the first showings of history’s most iconic films. I want to see the looks on peoples’ faces when Darth Vader gives the famous “Luke, I am your father” line in The Empire Strikes Back. I want to experience oldies like Casablanca, Psycho, or The Godfather during their first run in theaters. I’ve always wondered whether audiences at the time knew they were seeing something special. Or if they had a hunch that in time, those films would go down in history as cinematic classics. It’s hard to tell, really. But if so, what they must have felt while watching those films is exactly how I felt watching War for the Planet of the Apes. 

Matt Reeves returns to the directing chair for this third and (hopefully) final installment of the Planet of the Apes prequel series. Not long after the events of Dawn, the conflict between humans and apes has reached a boiling point. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the rest of his clan are struggling to evade capture by human forces, which are hell-bent on exterminating them all. They suffer unimaginable losses after their sanctuary is attacked by a paramilitary regime led by the ruthless Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson). Blinded with rage and his desire for revenge, Caesar and his right-hand men embark on a mission to hunt down the Colonel and avenge their kind.

My thought on the whole Planet of the Apes trilogy can be measured on a scale of Good-Better-Best. The first movie, Rise, was a fun surprise. While nothing groundbreaking per say, it was a decent reboot that opened the doors for a new franchise. Its sequel, Dawn, surpassed it, giving us a darker and more compelling story. Now we have War, which takes things to a whole other level, both technically and narratively.

For one, the special effects are absolutely astounding. The apes look like they’re really there, in every frame. With every close-up shot of one of the apes, I could make out every little detail- the skin textures, each individual hairs, the wrinkles on their faces, the scars, everything. It’s scary how realistic it all is. If this movie doesn’t at least get nominated for Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards, I will seriously punch a wall.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

But good effects don’t equal a good character. The actors under the digital makeup still have to give performances that are strong enough to shine through. All the actors portraying the apes in this movie are great. Andy Serkis especially perfect as Caesar. His arch throughout the trilogy is beautifully realized, and it’s cool to see how he went from this radical revolutionary to a seasoned leader. I also really liked the relationship between him and his comrades, his family, and all the other apes in his clan. I was invested in their plight and always hoped they would make it out okay.

Another bright spot is Woody Harrelson, whose performance as the colonel had shades of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. Although thoroughly despicable, he wasn’t 2-dimensional. He was cold, scary, desperate, and intimidating. Also, props to newcomer Steve Zahn, who plays Bad Ape, the comic relief. Putting a character like this in a war movie is a dangerous game. You run the risk of making him annoying or out of place. Thankfully, neither is the case with Bad Ape. The comedy comes naturally, and it fits within the world of the movie.

Don’t go into this movie expecting a spectacle. This isn’t a war movie in the same vein as Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge, with a lot of bloody fight scenes and explosions and rapid gunfire. There’s really only one battle scene, which doesn’t happen until the third act. But for the entire movie, you feel like you’re stuck in a world ravaged by war. The hauntingly gorgeous cinematography incorporates imagery reminiscent of Vietnam, the Holocaust, slavery, etc. The weight and intensity of the situation resonates through the screen.

As you can probably guess, I was absolutely floored by this movie. War for the Planet of the Apes is epic. It’s an epic movie. Its emotional, it’s beautiful, and it’s something I’m sure will be considered a cinematic classic in due time.

Cosmic Grade: 5 out of 5 Stars

 

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