It’s not very often that the films within a movie trilogy get stronger with each subsequent entry, but the Apes franchise has managed to do just that. Following the great Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, director Matt Reeves caps off the trilogy with one of the darkest entries in the franchise that also features one of Andy Serkis‘ strongest performances as Caesar.
The film is set two years after Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Caesar’s group of primates are in constant conflict with the human army, being led by a bloodthirsty soldier, The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). As both sides suffer losses, Caesar has to do all he can to save his brethren whilst also taking on a personal quest that will pit him face to face with the Colonel, an encounter that will determine the future of both ape and human.
This personal vendetta also causes Caesar to set out on his own, away from the larger group of apes, accompanied by Maurice (Karin Konoval), the wise and benevolent orangutan from the previous Apes movies; Rocket (Terry Notary), one of Caesar’s closest friends and second in command; Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), a gorilla who is also one of Caesar’s guards; Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a hermit chimpanzee who escaped from the zoo that Caesar’s group happen across on their journey, and last but not least, Nova (Amiah Miller), an orphaned mute human girl that the travelling primates take under their wing for protection.
Now it’s no surprise that while, once again, the main thrust is the battle between humans and the apes, with stakes that are bigger than ever, the story by Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback still manages to take things to a smaller and more personal level, focusing on the inner turmoil that Caesar goes through, trying to do what is best for his family but at the same time also driven by his almost selfish grudge against the Colonel. By having Caesar split from the main group, it allows the movie to focus on each of the five travelling companions, giving them each a distinct personality, allowing us to fear for them in moments of peril and relate to them in the more poignant moments.
The visual effects have come a long way since Rise of the planet of the Apes, and we no longer look at the titular characters as cg creations, but rather as another set of actors emoting on screen. There was many a moment in the film where I got teary eyed just by the emotional roller-coaster that the characters were putting me through. Andy Serkis’s performance as Caesar was phenomenal, the way his facial expressions conveyed both the most extreme and subtle of emotions. It’s about time that Serkis was given an Academy award for his motion capture performances.
Just as impressive is Karin Konoval’s performance as Maurice. Maurice has long been one of my favourite characters in the Apes franchise, and Konoval does so much with so little. Unlike Caesar, Maurice’s main mode of communication is through sign language, but with a simple forlorn look or a slump of the body, Konoval manages to speak volumes. To be honest, the same could be said for all the main Ape performers. These are characters that the audience have stakes in, protagonists that we don’t want any harm to come to.
And while this is a dark and intense story, the writers do manage to bring about moments of levity, mainly through the character of Bad Ape. A chimpanzee that’s has been living a mainly solitary existence until his encounter with Caesar’s travelling group, Bad Ape’s slightly off-kilter behaviour helps lighten the heavy nature of the rest of the film. He is often played for laughs, but he is an endearing character that fits in with the rest of the main group. This new character, along with Amiah Miller as Nova, a welcome new additions to the Ape mythology.
Oh speaking of Miller, the 12 year old actress acquitted herself admirably amongst the seasoned veterans she was acting against, even considering that she was limited to a more physical more of acting due to the mute nature of her character. Her performance is all the more impressive when you remember that her co-stars were mostly in motion capture suits. (I also like the call-back her character has to the original 1966 Planet of the Apes.)
One again this movie is scored by Michael Giacchino, whom I’m beginning to think is the busiest man in Hollywood. His work here is very different from his usual style of composition, more primal and raw, but soft and heart-wrenching when the scene calls for it. The score itself was one of the many reasons I found myself choked up during the movie. The main theme that pervades the film incredibly moving and will be stuck in your head for days.
I found War of the Planet of the Apes a great way to end a trilogy that has just knocked it out of the park, film after film. Matt Reeves has done a phenomenal job in elevating the franchise above its source material, and it gives me new found hope in the DCEU now that he is going to be directing the next Batman movie for Warner Bros.
With its mix of great story, cutting edge visuals and perfectly realised characters War is a must watch film of 2017, and I give it a 9.5 out of 10.
PS. There are no end credits.