The conclusion to the prequel trilogy for the long-running Planet of the Apes franchise charges into theaters with War for the Planet of the Apes. In 2011, no one was expecting much from another Planet of the Apes movie after a horrendous reboot by Tim Burton. After Rupert Wyatt’s take on the classic series of films, I was ecstatic as to where these prequels would go. Matt Reeves took over the director’s chair for Dawn of the Planets of the Apes and took the necessary steps to better the trilogy. Reeves returns once again and convinces me that this Apes trilogy is one of the best trilogies ever made.
Andy Serkis provides the motion capturing for the powerful leader Caesar, who must protect his family of apes against a vicious army colonel played by Woody Harrelson. It is easy to look at Woody Harrelson’s character and view him as the villain hell bent on wiping out the apes. However, throughout the movie it becomes clear that the humans are only fighting to preserve their species, much like Caesar has done in the last two films. Critical scenes throughout the film show the reality that for the first time humans are not at the top of the food chain. As the ape population thrives, a new force threatens to wipe out humans entirely, leading to an epic struggle between Woody Harrelson and Caesar.
Andy Serkis is no stranger to motion capturing as he has given us such roles as Gollum, King Kong, Hulk, and General Snoke. As we have come to expect, his performance as Caesar was impeccable and has secured yet another iconic character in cinema history. Caesar’s faithful companions, Maurice the orangutan, Luka the gorilla, and Rocket the chimpanzee, return as well to accompany Caesar on his hunt for the base. Steve Zahn stars as Bad Ape, an escaped zoo ape living in isolation near the human military base. Though the character aided Caesar in his quest to find the army base, his over-the-top humor felt out of place in some scenes. His character reminded me a lot of Harry Potter’s iconic house elf, Dobby.
The introduction of Nova, played beautifully by young Amiah Miller, is a character nod to the original Nova in the 1968 Planet of the Apes film. Nova is an intriguing character who finds herself traveling with the apes after Maurice finds her and refuses to abandon her. She is young and does not fear the apes like other humans so she easily fits in to the little group. Nova’s comradery with the apes hints that there may be a future where apes and humans could coexist peacefully on the planet.
The writers behind War for the Planet of the Apes have never shied away from giving Caesar distinctly human characteristics. This is even more apparent in this film as Caesar must fight an internal struggle between protecting his family and seeking revenge on the man who brought him great personal tragedy. After fellow ape Koba tried to overthrow him in the previous movie, Caesar is taking all necessary steps to protect his family. It’s interesting to see Caesar’s development throughout the three-film arc as he progresses from innocent child to mistreated ape to powerful leader.
With a title like War for the Planet of the Apes, the film surprisingly lacked many powerful war sequences. Many of the scenes in the film seem to drag on and center around Caesar traveling in a rather isolated setting. It isn’t until the conclusion of the movie that we see some impactful scenes between apes and humans. The apes spend most of the third act as captives of The Colonel which leads again to an escape scene with rather limited ape/human interaction. However, as the film goes on it becomes apparent that the title of this film may not be a war between apes and humans but between the humans themselves.
War for the Planet of the Apes impresses with its beautiful scenery and incredible cinematography but lacks some of the war sequences that are promised with the title. Like the previous two films, Caesar’s character development stays on pace to bring us a strong conclusion to this trilogy. I am interested to see if the franchise picks up at another date to lead into the 1968 film.
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War for the Planet of the Apes runs 2 hours 20 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images.