Review by Gino Sassani
“All of human history has led to this moment. The irony is we created you. And nature has been punishing us ever since. This is our last stand. And if we lose… it will be a Planet of Apes.”
I was always a fan of the original Planet of the Apes series of films. While they often flirted with a camp style, I was impressed with John Chambers’ makeup effects and the performances of Roddy McDowall as both Cornelius and Caesar. Then came the television show and I remained just as enchanted because of McDowall’s appearance as a third ape, Galen. The show didn’t last a season however, and before long the Apes franchise was left in some kind of limbo.
Then along came Tim Burton and I was excited to see what he could do with the material. Could this be the beginning of a new series of films? No, unfortunately it was horrible and the franchise suffered another lingering death. By now I’d given up hope that the Apes would ever return to their glory days. Then came Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I was suddenly enchanted once again. Little did I know that combined with Matt Reeves’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and now War for The Planet of the Apes, science fiction’s greatest trilogy would emerge. Where will they go from here?
It has been years since Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his ape civilization have become something of a mythology to the soldiers who are on constant patrol hoping to find and eliminate the ape threat once and for all. One such patrol comes upon the ape settlement, and a firefight results. The apes prevail and then Caesar does something unexpected. He allows the surviving human captives to return to their camp with a message that he wants peace and is willing to coexist with humans. That really isn’t going to work for a character we know only as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). So, the conflict escalates, and Caesar finally realizes he must confront this human once and for all. What happens next is both unexpected and amazing for the viewer.
The movie becomes a bit of a road film showing Caesar and a small band of followers making their way towards The Colonel’s camp. Along the way they witness exactly what is happening to the planet since the virus outbreak. They also meet some interesting characters. There’s Nova, she’s a young human child played by Amiah Miller. Nova’s the kind of person Caesar must hope he will encounter more often because she’s friendly and at ease in the company of the intelligent apes. There’s a bond that develops here that is an obvious desire for future human/ape relations. The Nova character is a bit of a nod to the original film, as is the name of Caesar’s newest son, Cornelius.
They also encounter the opposite side of the same coin with an ape who refers to himself as Bad Ape (voiced by Steve Zahn) because that’s all he was used to hearing humans say to him. He’s played a little too much for comedy relief however, and softening the tone of the film.
This first act of the film is a rewarding one, indeed. Woody Harrelson’s The Colonel is an obvious homage to Marlon Brando’s character in Apocalypse Now right down to shaving his head and muttering almost incoherent lines of ideology with almost a religious fervor. If you need any proof that the comparison is completely intentional, you need look no farther than graffiti on a sewer wall that reads “Ape-pocalypse Now”.
The pace might seem a little slow for anyone who comes to this movie expecting wall-to-wall fighting as the name might imply. But if you keep an open mind, this journey is a wonderful trip through this new world with amazing emotional beats that have you soon forgetting that these feelings are coming from talking apes created through computers. It’s a powerful script that breaks down these barriers and allows such a connection with these characters.
War for The Planet of the Apes goes completely against expectations and is a more thoughtful and contemplative film than the title implies. Matt Reeves has worked wonders with this franchise, and he continues to astound with each film. The technology continues to improve to the point that these apes are as real as any of the human characters, and honestly more relevant in the end.
The film is ultimately about family and unity, and at its core it’s about survival. Reeves has demonstrated something that people like Michael Bay seems to have forgotten. You can put millions of dollars of effects on a screen and make it all a crucial part of an emotional story, but here those amazing digital wonders blend flawlessly into a narrative where you aren’t supposed to marvel at technology. Rather the characters who happen to be CGI non-humans here, just become a part of the story. The action and communication is seamless between man and beast and that makes a world of difference. It was within minutes I stopped thinking about effects. Reeves devised the film to absorb me totally with no distractions or “look at me” moments. This may not be an accurate look at Earth’s future, but I hope it’s an accurate look at the future of f/x and story. “Apes together strong.”
Starring:Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary
Directed by:Matt Reeves
Rated: PG-13 by the MPAA for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox