War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves

As we reach the conclusion of the blockbuster trilogy of the decade, coming off Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which is my eyes was one of the most balanced blockbuster films I’ve ever seen, the stakes and expectations for War for the Planet of the Apes are impossibly high. There is literally nowhere to go but down for the final episode, which is often the case with some of the best trilogies of all time. The Godfather Part II, Empire Strikes Back, even The Last Jedi (for this viewer) all set expectations that the next film had no chance of living up to. And while that company is very high, I do think the comparison is apt. And as with those other films, I would say that War for the Planet of the Apes is a letdown, but only in so much as it’s not as good as the film that came before it. It’s still a great movie, and still a wonderful conclusion to the new trilogy which revitalized the series.

After the conclusion of Dawn, the intelligent apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) are at odds with a military group, led by a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson) who is out to hunt them down. After the colonel kills his family, Caesar sets out to track the colonel down, while the rest of the apes escape to a desert safe haven. But after learning the apes were captured, Caesar and his closest compatriots pick up an orphan child, Nova, and come across a lonely chimp named Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who helps them get to the colonel’s prison camp compound where their friends are being held and worked nearly to death in terrible conditions. But as the apes come to the point of breaking out, another human military group comes to take down the rebel unit led by the colonel.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a film that feels like it makes its way back to a pure blockbuster format, straying from the emotional depth that was created by the first two films. And while that sounds like a dig, it’s only a slight one because Matt Reeves and team have perfected the blockbuster style of filmmaking, with breathtaking visual effects (it is a crime the series never won an Oscar for their visual effects work), interesting characters and performances, and an elevated delivery of action sequences. But, what made Dawn so great was the emotional depth of character that was crafted throughout. And while some of that naturally seeps over into the conclusion, the film is much more focused on the action scenes and resolution. I think this is almost a crutch of having the reach that conclusion with the series, the filmmakers are limited to going one particular place. That being said, I do think not having Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver as part of the writing team this go around (they were still producers) hurt. Their absence was felt as it lacked that extra connection that helped it fall short of the greatness we had all hoped for with the conclusion. But the film is still a visual splendor and a fitting conclusion to the story.

I actually don’t have a ton to say about this film in particular. It’s a cool take on a prisoner of war escape movie, it has heavy influence from something like The Ten Commandments, with Caesar leading his people to the “promised land”. But I really want to focus on the context of this movie and the series as a whole. What a crowning achievement for Andy Serkis, whose motion capture performance in this film and the entire series is literally groundbreaking and revolutionary, on top of his work as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. It’s an acting and performing style that is very rare, Serkis’ work will be the blueprint for many more like it in the years to come with the advancement of that technology and visual effects in general. Honestly, he deserves an honorary Oscar for his achievement in this series and the LOTR series. He has helped change moviemaking for the better.

As I understand it, since Disney has acquired Fox, and therefore the Planet of the Apes franchise, potentially more Apes movies are in the works. I have no idea if this has only come as a result of the acquisition, or if Fox was preparing to make boatloads of more money on the franchise anyway, but I for one am excited about any additional content in this world, especially if many of the same collaborators are back on the project. While the trilogy is a nice package with beginning and end, and some may claim a new movie, or movies, might threaten to ruin this trilogy, I say hogwash! The trilogy is what it is, and always will be. These are three films that should be celebrated as a tremendous achievement, most of all Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But even going back to the originals from the late 60s/early 70s, this marathon has been a hell of a fun ride with perhaps the weirdest successful movie franchise of all time that managed to find new life in a new century. Cheers!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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