Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Matt Reeves
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Michael Seresin
WRITERS: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
MUSIC: Michael Giacchino
Just when I thought that “Logan” would be a surprisingly moving action film, “War for the Planet of the Apes” comes along. The third film in the rebooted “Planet of the Apes” films gives a satisfying close to a series that will have you cheering for the other species. Andy Serkis gives a fantastic performance as Caesar leads the apes in an ongoing war that started at the end of the last film, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”.
The opposing humans are a part of an army known as the Alpha-Omega. They are lead by the ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Not only has the Colonel rallied an army behind his cause to eradicate the apes, he also uses some of the apes as slaves, calling them “Donkeys” and branding them. It is also revealed that the virus that started to wipe out humanity way on back in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” has mutated and humans are becoming speechless primitives, incapable of advanced thought.
If the Colonel sees that you are going primitive, he kills you on the spot in hopes of stopping the new virus from spreading. One girl that manages to get away is Nova (Amiah Miller) and she is eventually adopted by Maurice (Karin Konoval), Caesar’s most loyal and compassionate friend. Eventually, the Colonel captures Caesar’s apes and it is up to the now older leader to rescue them from the deranged humans.
Serkis deserves all the praise for his motion capture work as there is nobody in the business better at capturing a detailed digital character such as Caesar. People often forget that there is a man behind the digital costume and that the costume still has to be worn by a convincing actor. I will also say that the digital costumes for the apes in this film are some of the best digital effects that I’ve ever seen committed to film.
In fact, if this film does not get the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, then there is something seriously wrong with the Academy. All of the apes are more convincing than they’ve ever been and even when the camera is pulled in tight, they are damn near flawless. Not only was I impressed with the technical feat of these characters, but also the emotional responses that they elicited.
This was a truly powerful movie and there were several moments where I could feel the tears welling up. Director and co-writer Matt Reeves could have just given us a blockbuster action-packed movie showing us the final battle between the apes and humanity. Instead, he did something better by giving us an emotional and morally complicated ride where we cheer for Caesar ultimately but also kind of condemn him for his more “human” emotions such as hatred and revenge.
I should note that the humans featured in the movie are great as well, particularly Harrelson as the Colonel. In fact, he gives a speech in one scene that, at least for a split second, makes me feel for the guy. Still, this is Caesar’s film and the story never lets us forget that as we focus more on him than anything else.
Ultimately, I was surprised by how well done this movie really was with a strong story featuring strong characters. It contains the fantastic special-effects and blockbuster entertainment that we’ve come to expect from these movies. In the end, though, I’m just thankful that the movie ultimately didn’t forget its heart along the way.