War for the Planet of the Apes, 2017.
Directed by Matt Reeves.
Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Judy Greer, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite, Gabriel Chavarria, Max Lloyd-Jones, Sara Canning, Aleks Paunovic, and Chad Rook.
After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
When the Planet of the Apes franchise was dubiously rebooted six years ago, it was practically impossible to consider the artistic leaps and bounds the series would subsequently take, venturing from 2011’s unexpectedly canny retooling through to 2014’s ambitious, expectation-defying Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and now, perhaps finally, that rarest of things – a second sequel that incredulously improves further still.
Some two years after the events of Dawn, all-out war is raging between the surviving humans, many led by the ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson), and the apes, commanded by Caesar (Andy Serkis). As the Colonel’s desperate desire to preserve humanity forces a battle for supremacy between the two species, it becomes clear that there will be no compromise, and only one side will be able to secure the future of their kind.
In a year that has already given us a brilliantly, deadly-serious Wolverine swan-song and a successful rejuvenation of the Spider-Man franchise, it’s not hyperbolic to declare War for the Planet of the Apes 2017’s most revelatory big-budget cinematic achievement. Even with ultra-talented director Matt Reeves returning to helm and, of course, the force-of-nature that is Andy Serkis, there would be little shame in War falling slightly short of the mark compared to its predecessors; and yet, Reeves dares to make this trilogy-capper the most daring, bleak, haunting and affecting of them all.
Above all else, know that for all of its apes-on-horseback shenanigans, War is not a fun escapist time at the movies; it is an impeccable work of cinematic artifice, for sure, but much like Logan it dares to take itself incredibly seriously while resisting the urge to overtly navel-gaze. Comic relief is occasionally interspersed by way of Steve Zahn’s thoroughly charming former zoo inmate Bad Ape, though these asides provide only brief respite in a 140-minute tableau of murder, revenge and the very ugliest desires and emotions of human and primate laid bare.
Andy Serkis’ Caesar remains the series’ resolute center-piece and continues to evolve, pardon the pun, beyond the wise elder statesman role he assumed in Dawn. Now haunted by his murder of Koba at the end of the last film, and wrestling with the darker side of his nature that’s progressively teased out by the villainous human Colonel, Caesar is forced to consider the soupy nature of morality, and the gulf between an act that feels right in the moment and actually is right for all time.
Easily though one could glibly dismiss all the action and drama as fundamentally, portentously daft, Serkis and Harrelson sell their diametrically opposed characters’ primal desperation for every drop of tension it’s worth, resulting in an uncommonly provocative moral stalemate. To say nothing of how it all ends, know simply that the resolution is extremely satisfying and refreshingly avoids many of the overzealous pitfalls even the most talented filmmakers tend to trip into when winding down a popular trilogy.
Andy Serkis may or may not finally be recognised by the Academy for his sublimely ground-breaking work over the course of these three films, perhaps an Honorary Oscar in tow with Weta Digital if he’s lucky, but his mesmerising work will certainly endure no matter the gold statues, a towering monument to a shrewd combination of cutting-edge technology and a phenomenally chameleonic performer.
While Serkis unavoidably rises to the top as the feature attraction, everything surrounding him is only slightly less-good, enlivened by Reeves’ superlative direction, keenly nudging at classic epics such as Apocalypse Now and Ben-Hur but also working hard to build its own strong visual identity. From sunny beaches to snow-tipped mountains and everything in-between, the sense of scale is absolutely awe-inspiring, especially given the judicious melding of practical and digital elements.
In conjunction with the lush cinematography and deliberate editing, it would be remiss not to mention Michael Giacchino’s riveting musical score, at once riffing on prior Apes scores and bringing some distinct, singular licks to this soundscape that the new trilogy hasn’t yet encountered. It’s pretty fair to conclude that the movie’s atmosphere is so stark that it could’ve easily transpired without a single piece of musical accompaniment, and to that end Giacchino’s contribution is perhaps a mere icing on the cake, but a delightful one no doubt.
War for the Planet of the Apes joins the most prized pantheon of landmark movie sequels, threequels and blockbusters built to endure for decades. In its every genuine pore this is a devastatingly human meditation on what it means to live, sewn underneath a thrillingly operatic man vs. nature parable that shames practically everything else out there getting $200 million injected into it. Much like its predecessor, this is that rare film capable of holding even the most boisterous and fidgety of audiences in stunned silence, all the more impressive when it’s while a room full of CGI apes are communicating via sign language. That is cinema.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.