War for the Planet of the Apes Review: A Chilling Masterpiece
The third Apes film is one of the most surprising blockbusters I have seen in years. The film is incredibly bold in its restraint: rather than bombard the audience with action and noise it chooses to present a darker, slower story. The motion capture effects and performances are terrific as always, but there is more to this film that makes it great. It isn’t phenomenal because it has several hours of action-packed pay-off like The Return of the King. The advertising for this film and its title and are very misleading, and that is something everyone seeing this film should know. This movie is about the brutal story of two species struggling to survive each other after the fragile peace between them was ripped apart. It is quiet, it is dark, and it is a masterpiece.
Apes breaks one assumed rule in trilogies. Many filmmakers strive to make the final picture in a trilogy action-heavy and fast-paced compared to previous entries. The Dark Knight Rises for example, trades the street level action of its predecessor in favor of a massive city-spanning climax. The Return of the King gives the audience two massive battles: one on the Pelennor Fields near Minas Tirith, and one in front of Mordor. A slightly less beloved example, Spider-Man 3, exchanges the warehouse fight in Spider-Man 2 for a battle with Venom and a hundred-foot-tall Sandman atop a skyscraper.
In contrast, this film has only two legitimate action scenes and both are short. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was far more action-packed than its sequel. There is hardly a ‘war’ in this film by any stretch; instead it is a slow and ruthless story about survival. Most of the film takes place in a military base, and many of the scenes feel part of a holocaust movie rather than a summer-blockbuster.
This reversal of expectation might bore or disappoint viewers expecting a two and a half-hour long action extravaganza. But once I understood the filmmakers were trying to craft a character-driven story, I was floored. Caesar takes most of the screen time in this film as his darker sides begin to drive his actions. He is placed in a horrible situation, and we as anger and vengeance consume him.
Caesar is the heart of these new Apes films, and Andy Serkis delivers a tremendous performance as his character slips into madness and rage. But Caesar isn’t the only character in this film that manages to grab your attention. The Colonel, a human bent on wiping out the apes, is an amazing villain who shows how desperate and cruel humanity has become. The tension between Caesar and the Colonel was masterful, and their scenes together are some of the best confrontations I have seen in a blockbuster period. Every line of dialogue truly sells how much hate each character harbors for the other. Their final confrontation is one that will stick with me for a very long time.
And although Andy Serkis does an excellent job as Caesar, the special-effects team should be commended for the great work they did behind the camera. Never before have CGI-creatures looked so real, and I never once reminded myself that I was watching a computer-generated effect. If it is still too soon for Andy Serkis to be nominated for an Oscar for his role in this film, I at least hope that the people who created these marvels receive the admiration they deserve.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a visual marvel. Not only is the CGI amazing, but the cinematography is beautiful in its own right. The images of apes on horseback riding though the shore, and the frigid shots of the snow-covered summits pull you into the scene even if bullets aren’t flying.
There isn’t too much I can say about this film without entering spoiler-territory, so I have elected to keep my review brief.
In short: go see this movie. It is a landmark blockbuster, and it caps off a trilogy which will serve as an example for upcoming reboots in the years to come. This is how you make a great reboot: present a compelling narrative with great characters, and make the source material the backdrop rather than the focal point. Years from now, I will look back at this film and remember how it gripped me for hours without resorting to explosions.
It leaves its audience with a lot to think about, and I’m certain I won’t stop thinking about it for a long time.