Overall: 18/20 – A
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller
**Cave-sized spoilers ahead**
Not so long ago, I realized that War for the Planet of the Apes was coming to theaters and I got excited. Then I became sad when I realized that I hadn’t actually watched any of the Planet of the Apes movies since the 1968 version with Charlton Heston. So, like any good movie nerd, I went on a watching spree. In less than 24 hours I watched Rise and Dawn, as well as Planet of the Apes (2001), and Planet of the Apes (1968). Not going to lie, I was a bit tired of apes by that point, but at least I felt ready finish out the trilogy in theaters.
In retrospect, I’m glad I did go back and re-watch that 1968 version because there were a lot of themes that seemed to have reappeared in War. Even the music seemed to reflect it to some degree which I actually thought was a very interesting choice on the part of Michael Giacchino. But we’ll get to that.
Plot-wise, they start us off with a very helpful recap (if you haven’t mainlined it – like I did) of the previous two movies. By this point in the story, humanity is hanging on by a very, very tiny thread and the apes are still predominantly just trying to live their lives in peace. They are actively searching for a new home, far from any humans, in an effort to avert a war. From one such scouting trip does Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes, returns with news of a safe haven far across the desert. After an assasination attempt goes horribly wrong, Caesar insists that the rest of the apes travel to this new found safe haven while he alone goes in search of the Colonel, who has sworn to wipe out Caesar and all of his kind.
Along the way, he is joined by fellow apes, Rocket, Maurice, and Luca who help him track the human army. They discover not only that the army has begun killing their own, but that those murdered have lost the capabilities of speech. This is evidenced by a small, human girl found by Maurice hiding in an abandoned house. She joins with the apes, begins to learn sign language, and forms some fast friendships with her new found family. They eventually find another ape called Bad Ape, who learned speech through watching his human handlers. He is eccentric and mostly there for comic relief, but he does lighten the mood from what is a very tense movie filled with PTSD, fanaticism, war, and slavery. Upon discovering that the rest of his clan has been captured by the Colonel, including his infant son Cornelius, Caesar surrenders to the Colonel. It is revealed that the Simian Flu had unforseen consequences and has begun stripping the humans of what little is left of their humanity, so they have become truly desperate. As the final battle climaxes, what’s left is truly a planet of the apes, and the apes are finally free to build the society they’d dreamed about.
It’s hard to talk about the actors without mentioning the motion capture because 90% of the movie involves CGI apes rather than humans. Andy Serkis reprises his role as Caesar and continues to do an excellent job at it. The introduction of Amiah Miller was welcome and she does a fantastic job playing the mute girl, Nova. She was the personification of innocence and worked well within the motion captured apes. Woody Harrelson is noted for playing slightly crazy, okay, mostly crazy people, and his character of the Colonel is no different. However, the character is a fascinating mix of fanaticism, loyalty, and admiration of his enemy which could have been a hard mix to pull off. Steve Zahn makes an appearance as a very crazy ape named Bad Ape. Noted for his voice work, Zahn does a credible job being crazy, but was a bit over the top in some parts.
Visually, the movie was stunning with some truly epic winter scenes. The design of the apes primary home of cave systems was unique in that it was clearly primitive but developing rapidly toward sophistication as the apes only grow smarter. As stated before the motion capture was flawless and those 90% of the characters on screen didn’t actually exist, never for a second was there any doubt that there were hundreds of apes on screen. The battle at the end was short-lived but impressive, giving it a much larger feel than merely a fort blowing up. The whole movie was designed with an epic feel in mind. In many ways it feels like the polar opposite of the 1968 version because where everything in the first version is desert heat and sun, the final of this trilogy is nothing but snow, rocks, and trees.
The true throwback that occurs in this movie comes from the music. It hearkens back to epics such as Spartacus, the Ten Commandments, and of course Planet of the Apes itself with sweeping scores and dramatic undertones. There’s not really one particular scene that stands out where the music and the scenery are truly one, but the ending comes close. The escape of the apes is actually a pretty cool track as well. Michael Giacchino delivers another fantastic summer film movie. With sounds that are completely opposite of his previous blockbuster Spider-Man: Homecoming.
This is a fantastic movie with a solid score and a great ending to what was already an exciting trilogy. It has some unexpected surprises, unlike this season 7’s premiere of Game of Thrones, and through it all you unreservedly vote for the apes. On a side note, good luck visiting a zoo after watching it because seriously, the primates section takes on a whole new meaning and you see them in an entirely new light.
Adults: Great to watch in theaters and an awesome conclusion to the trilogy. However, if apes or sign language isn’t your thing, you probably won’t enjoy it.
Children: It’s not bad for children. However, reading is a necessary skill to have as this is heavily subtitled.