Movie review: War for the Planet of the Apes

After Rise and Dawn comes War. The little franchise that could comes to its stunning conclusion and proves itself the most unlikely of closing chapters to a blockbuster trilogy not just that a film series so smart exists in the first place but because it doesn’t necessarily give you what you want – or rather, expect – it gives you what you didn’t even know you needed.

After renegade ape Koba’s assault on a human outpost at the end of the last film, War for the Planet of the Apes finds Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe living in the woods, trying to live their lives in peace but tenaciously hunted by what remains of the human military, headed up by Woody Harrelson’s vengeful colonel. An attack on their home with tragic consequences forces the apes from their home and puts Caesar on the warpath to exact revenge on the colonel.

If you thought the previous movie was grim, you ain’t seen nothing yet. War (again directed by Matt Reeves) is perhaps the most downbeat summer blockbuster in quite some time; trench warfare, PTSD, desertion, torture, labour camps, slavery, executions.
James Franco teaching Caesar to play chess couldn’t seem further away. It’s a fitting tone for the story these films are telling even if it doesn’t make for a fun watch, Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape aside.

We’re long past singing the virtues of the motion capture performances in these films, but it would be remiss not to mention the fact that your brain doesn’t once think of the apes that carry this entire franchise as anything other than that: apes. In fact the opening 45 minutes is mostly set within the ape community (and largely subtitled) with the ratio of apes to human skewed in favour of the simians yet never once are we begging for the film to return to the human characters. It’s a very easy aspect of this film to take for granted. The emotion is etched on Caesar’s face as plain as day, and given that most of the film has him wrestling with descent into darkness, the performance and the technical wizardry should never not be mentioned as it is exemplary. The only human character of note is Harrelson, going full Kurtz but remaining just the right side of pantomime and much like the film as a whole, playing with more layers than you’d think.

Another welcome surprise is that the film never takes the easy way out, subverting the usual action movie tropes at almost every turn. It never compromises its integrity to shoehorn in the requisite action sequence we’ve been conditioned to expect come the third act, especially the third act of the final part of a trilogy. It does, of course, arrive but logically and never at the expense of the narrative. The script by Reeves and Mark Bomback never goes in the direction you think it will and while it might not excite as much as you’d think (there’s no monkey in a tank this time) it’s immensely satisfying regardless.

There are a few niggles but nothing that derails the film. There’s a little convenient plotting here and there (Deus Ex Gorilla?) that gets you from A to B functionally if not innovatively and the 3D is wholly unnecessary, but the again when isn’t it?

The smartest science fiction trilogy in years ends with the film it deserves.
4 stars

Jonny Cardwell

Thanks to MovieHouse Cinemas 

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