By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
No previous knowledge is required to get up to speed before War for the Planet of the Apes. This third and possibly final film of the trilogy recaps the essential bits of lore needed to show that life on Earth is bad not only for ape-kind but also the humans. The Simian virus has taken its toll on humanity and it’s an ongoing threat which is evolving before the survivor’s very eyes. Those who are still around have banded together in enclaves and think extermination is key to reclaiming their position in the animal hierarchy.
Caesar (Andy Serkis) is the leader and he just wants his tribe to be left alone. They are not at completely at fault for the calamity. However, there are soldiers who think otherwise. Colonel (Woody Harrelson) leads a nearby army faction thinking he can do what’s best. Unfortunately, his motives do not jibe with other groups, and he’s considered a renegade. After he killed the wrong apes in a midnight raid, these two leaders are going to face each other head on. Well, that’s if nothing else gets in their way. Both are facing their own demons.
The Colonel is fearing the end of days, and the biblical references are certainly worth noting. Painted on the American flag is the Alpha and Omega, the name of this group, and I got the sense the act where this force captured the apes is a look into the German Holocaust. There’s more to this terrifying look at a dark moment in history, and in what’s seen is just a taste. Fortunately, the humour from a new character, a balding chimpanzee whom Caesar and his group befriend, helps lighten the mood.
After adopting another character into the fold, I came to realize Caesar is not entirely out for revenge. Part of his journey includes fighting those instincts begging him to be as bad as Koba (from the previous film). The young girl (Amiah Miller) they take under their wings shows there is still kindness buried in that gruff exterior of his. Maurice the orangutan is the gentler soul who convinces the leader of the apes that she should not be left alone, otherwise she may die. At the same time, there’s an implication between the two that Caesar must take responsibility. He shot her father in self-defense.
Plenty of drama plays out in a film that may have a few people expecting massive fights to play out. This film does not render anything in a huge Lord of the Rings type of arena. The story is very personal, especially for Caesar seen fighting those primal instincts. The constant close-ups show his torment. He does not want to “go ape” at his enemies. He wants to show he is above all that.
This movie excels in showing that in war, there are never any winners and losers. Instead, the consequences everyone has to live with is revealed. This movie plays out like a story from out of the Old Testament. Director Matt Reeves worked closely with writer Mark Bomback to craft this tale and in an interview with Slash Film, did say he wanted Caesar to mythic status. He succeeded!
The performances are amazing across the board. When considering a young girl is on set trying to react to veteran actors wearing laser tracking motion-capture suits, she pulls off a great job of being in that moment and emoting the gravitas needed to evoke sympathy for her plight. Reeves made the Planet of the Apes come alive by filming on Vancouver Island where those deep forests and stretches of clean beach can be found to realize his vision for this film. The cinematography in the night scenes is just as alluring. This movie works far better without the 3D conversion, as it did nothing to push the barrier of feeling like you are there with the movie. Unlike blockbuster films which tend to provide more of a visual experience, this movie is more about exploring the characters in how they must be careful in what he (ape included) intends to reap. This fact includes movie studio bureaucracy; do not continue a franchise because it’s lucrative. When the writers have a vision for how a saga should end, it should come to a full stop.
4½ Stars out of 5