War for the Planet of the Apes

Release: Friday, July 14, 2017


Written by: Mark Bomback; Matt Reeves

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Maurice: “Ooo! Oo!!!!”

Me: “Yeah buddy, I hate war too.”

We all know how Caesar feels about it. Poor Caesar. If he had his way, we wouldn’t even be here. War for the Planet of the Apes basically details everything the alpha male, the very first ape to experience increased intelligence, has been wanting to avoid. And how.

Of course Caesar doesn’t get his way even when he really should, after all he’s endured. After all those demonstrations of mercy and stoicism. Alas, here we are, locked into a brutal and bitter conflict that will, almost assuredly, see the fall of one species and the survival of the other, the odds of reconciliation at an all-time low. With the imminent threat posed by a ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson, scary good) who is hell-bent on wiping out the apes once and for all, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and a few loyal ape-padres must launch a final attack that will determine the fate of the entire planet.

War for the Planet of the Apes finds director Matt Reeves (who took over from Rupert Wyatt in 2014 with his ominous Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) pushing the pathos of the franchise to even greater depths. He’s saved the most visceral depiction of an epic ideological struggle for last. Admittedly, it’s a fairly misleading title, as ‘war’ isn’t so much an indicator of scale, but rather a reference to a certain mentality. The film opens with a harrowing battle sequence, concludes in explosive fashion and tosses a few other moments of intense confrontation into the mix but the overall tone asserts the psychological unraveling and the perversion of logic associated with war.

To that end, we must witness the continued suffering of Caesar when he takes it upon himself to track down the vengeful, rogue colonel, who turns out to be every bit his intellectual equal and, further to Caesar’s dismay, has a devastating backstory of his very own. He’s the ideal dramatic foil. He has reasons to be angry. Harrelson actually goes for livid, chillingly reminding you how good he is at playing nasty, but he never overplays his hand.

Though he is adamant he must go the journey alone, Caesar is nonetheless joined by a trio of his most trusted allies. The Bornean orangutang Maurice (Karin Konoval) insists he will need his moral support. For muscle, he’s flanked by the gloriously large lowland gorilla Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) and his adoptive brother Rocket (Terry Notary) — a common chimp, yes, but also a tenacious fighter. But Maurice is valuable in another way besides being team cheerleader. He’s a voice of reason, proving his shrewd judge of character can come in handy at some fairly critical moments.

Others join. Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape is a welcomed though fairly obvious nod to Serkis’ groundbreaking mo-cap as the troubled tag-a-long and ultimately ill-fated Sméagol/Gollum. Fortunately Bad Ape is more than simple fan service. He’s a sorrowful simian who’s been on his own for “long time. Very long time.” On top of adding a splash of humor to proceedings, his perspective proves invaluable and offers clarity to the intellectual evolution of Caesar himself, who sits before him, quietly impressed by a member of his own species having learned to speak English. It’s a profound moment that perfectly encapsulates how far we have come since 2011.

It might surprise some to find it all coming down to an act of retribution. But if you recall, a simple misunderstanding by zoo security is what set this whole saga off in the first place. Instead of bogging itself down in philosophizing and extrapolation, Reeves’ direction comes across as more quietly observational — the cameras remain objective and unflinching as people die and apes are savagely tortured. The writing has consistently shied away from overcomplicating things. And Harrelson’s painful revelation confirms the ironic nature of this whole confusing cycle. We “created” the intelligent ape, now they are minimizing us. It’s kind of tragic. Well, depending on how you’ve come to view these movies.

Recommendation: Powerful, provocative and emotionally resonant. The third and final iteration in the rebooted Apes franchise sends audiences off on a thrilling high, and brings long-time fans back full-circle. Combined with ever-improving special effects and the committed work of motion-capture performer Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes is absolutely the most mature and most well-made film in the post-Charlton Heston era. Sure it’s a little predictable, but it’s predictable in a very surprising way. And that totally does make sense when you see the movie. 

Rated: hard PG-13

Running Time: 140 mins.

Quoted: “My God, you are impressive. Smart as hell. You’re stronger than we are. But you’re taking this all much too personally. So emotional!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

21 thoughts on “War for the Planet of the Apes

    • Thanks so much.

      These movies have just been a treat, start to finish. If there are indeed to be more of them I’d be interested to see where they go. But I’d really rather them lock the door on this now because I really feel like, for as much credit we give Nolan for his Dark Knight epic, and esp with regards to Ledger and the way he made the second film totally unforgettable, what Andy Serkis has done to bring Caesar to life is on that level. These movies have been to the ‘Apes’ franchise what TDK is to Batman. High praise? Oh yeah! But that’s where me stands

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I am inclined to agree with you. I thought this was the last one, and then read recently that they got a green light for a fourth. A future without Serkis? I am sure they can do it and all, but he is just beyond fantastic and is like… the life blood of these movies for me. So I totally get your praise!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Apart from the slightly heavy handed Apocalypse Now references this is a really smart, emotionally affecting movie. That you don’t question an ape riding a horse etc underlines just how effectively it wins you over. Top review mate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks!

      I don’t think it’s just the AN references that are pretty blunt. The Jesus/Holocaust/slavery/Moses allegories are fairly on the nose too but I think in this case, when it’s all at stake, I can let some of that slide because Caesar has just been one of the coolest new creations in modern cinema. Watching him has been a real treat.


  2. Pingback: Month in Review: July ’17 | Thomas J

    • They’re so brilliant. Those close-ups especially reveal so much depth and emotion. Loved this one.


  3. I was really impressed by Harrelson in this. Serkis is going to get the lion’s share of the praise (not wrongly), but I always think of Harrelson as just turning up, doing his ‘bit’, being kind of likeable, that’s it. He handled a lot of weight and complexity really well though, I thought; I actually began to feel for the guy at one point, which considering he’s a ruthless murder-hungry psychopath is saying something.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right on, Harrelson was a pretty underrated piece here. I loved how I almost sided with him, his backstory was very sad.

      The ratio between the villains he plays vs the lovable screwups has got to be like 100-to-1, which is why when he goes to the dark side it carries that extra impact. He’s a generally underrated actor in my opinion.

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  4. I still need to watch the first two. As fantastic as it sounds, I just can’t wrap my head around watching a movie with apes as the main cast. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even I have got to admit that an armed ape riding on horseback whooping out into the night is pretty ridiculous. If the suspension of disbelief doesn’t happen for you, then yeah these could be some reaalllly long movies 😉


    • Cheers my friend. Frustratingly Dunkirk had to be put off, so I decided to fill the gap awkwardly with this belated piece! I did love this movie, though. I felt it was a perfect encapsulation of everything that has defined the modern vision. I think I’m in the same camp as you, re: liking it the most of the lot

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I do think Dawn had a better story balanced with its action, it was so subtle. But still. an amazing end to a trilogy that no one saw coming. Caesar is an all-time movie character. Great write, Tom.


    • Thank you!

      You might be onto something. I think the point in the relationship between man and ape was more . . . I don’t know, complicated (?) at that time. By the time we get to War there’s almost no more talking. It’s just killing and a lot of bad stuff. So in a way War’s narrative is more simple. But I think it’s the most emotionally resonant one of the series. There are some really powerful moments in this movie!

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