War for the Planet of the Apes, the third instalment in this highly successful reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, finds Andy Serkis reprising his starring role as ape leader Caesar and introduces Woody Harrelson as the primary antagonist simply credited as The Colonel.
With a run time of around 140 minutes, the film had the potential to wander into the dreaded “overblown” territory that comes with many later franchise entries. Thankfully, lithe, focused storytelling keeps War firmly on track, and every minute of the film feels absolutely essential.
The film kicks off with the apes being hunted mercilessly by humans, and the long-bubbling hatred and fear from both sides is keenly and immediately felt. At the core of this bloody entanglement are Caesar and The Colonel. An older, exhausted Caesar still believes that apes and humans can and should co-exist peacefully, while The Colonel believes only in annihilation, and will stop at nothing to realise his vision. Much blood is spilled and many lives are lost on both sides as pressure and despair soon explodes past the point of no return for Caesar and the apes; all-out war appears to be the only solution for their survival.
To say much more about the plot or the various character arcs would be to risk spoiling parts of this behemoth, and so I shall instead shift focus on what makes the film work so well. Firstly, the story is expertly crafted and emotionally charged. This viewer found that dreaded emotive hijacker known as “lump in the throat” making appearances throughout the film, and it only got more severe as the picture ventured on. The deep connections between the apes transcend their more primitive language capabilities – Caesar is one of few who can formulate even basic sentences – and such tight bonds are developed so delicately and organically that, as the apes venture on, very real anxiety and panic hits home whenever one of them is placed in a dire situation.
Then we have the visuals. My goodness, the visuals. After watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes back in 2014, I was utterly convinced that we’d reached our apex in the realm of CG animation; I’m more than happy to concede defeat after this visual spectacle. The apes are jaw-droppingly realistic thanks to the technical wizards over at Weta, but it’s more than these primates. Director Matt Reeves, back at the helm here following Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and cinematographer Michael Seresin (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) have created a film that is vastly beauteous, from the snow-covered landscapes to the grimey, earthy settings later on. I’m utterly lost for words – it was all incredible to look at.
Tying in seamlessly with the amazing visuals are the action sequences. The bane of many a moviegoer is the oft-imbalanced relationship between action and story. There are quite a few movies out there filled with visual delights, but so many fall short of the mark when it comes to utilising action as a means of advancing the narrative. War shows ‘em how it’s done.
This is a deeply emotional film born out of a remarkable story, a strong screenplay and wonderful acting, with Serkis again showing why he’s the king of the CG-character, motion-capture castle. Harrelson guns his part with ease, to the point where it feels as though it was written solely with him in mind. The casting – which includes Steve Zahn as memorable new character Bad Ape, young Amiah Miller as human girl Nova, and Karin Konoval, back as motherly ape Maurice – must be praised across the board.
The score by composer Michael Giacchino (Up, Jurassic World, Rogue One) and sound design was spectacular. As with Christopher Nolan’s recent Dunkirk, a superb visual and aural masterclass, War wonderfully showcases just how much all things audio have to play when it comes to viewer immersion.
It’s the cohesion of all of these interconnected parts that serves War for the Planet of the Apes so brilliantly. It’s a perfect piece of cinema; one that some are saying may well be up there with the greatest third instalments of all time. I’m not going to argue with that.
THE REEL SCORE: 10/10