WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Though this is heavy, contemplative filmmaking, I urge everyone to take the opportunity to experience one of 2017’s finest films, a beautiful, bittersweet, and immersive cinematic experience.
You want a big summer blockbuster with some teeth, some depth and grit, fostering great conversations in the car ride home? War for the Planet of the Apes is your movie.
Andy Serkis. The pioneer of motion-capture acting delivers an incredible, unforgettable performance as Caesar – definitely pushing past CGI and technological advances and giving one of the best performances of 2017.
If you have not been a fan of the direction this franchise has been heading over the previous films, War may feel bleak, unrelenting, dark, and violent to those wanting something lighter and more affable.
Parents be aware: Though rated PG-13, this is a film with considerable violence and grapples with themes of loss and death in very grown up ways.
The film is long at 139 minutes and overtures to Biblical themes and stories, slavery, and the Holocaust could rub sensitive viewers the wrong way.
War for the Planet of the Apes concludes an ambitious reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise with director Matt Reeves returning to complete the trilogy. Stepping into the hot seat for the second film, 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, served as a terrific move, with the film taking 2011’s emotionally vacant, but visually impressive Rupert Wyatt-directed effort (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and amplifying the intensity and heightening the stakes.
For this War, Reeves has delivered something unforgettable and truly special – a blistering, dark, visceral rumination on war, loyalty, and sacrifice. For some this will be grim, dark, and unrelenting. You will want a gulp of fresh air afterwards, and maybe sit quietly with a beverage of your choice and not think about all of this for a good, long while.
But this is one of 2017’s best films, though it may offer minimal light and fleeting levity. Reeves delivers an experience full of gripping, knuckle-white potency, with a breathtaking risk of violence and danger in and around every scene.
This is not your garden-variety summer movie blockbuster, and for a PG-13 film, War is violent and unforgiving. However, if you have invested in Rise and Dawn, Reeves steers the ship to a sobering, necessary conclusion. We open with Caesar (Andy Serkis) already on the move, again aggrieved and attempting to outwit an Army battalion set on capturing and eliminating the sentient simian population who are simply trying to co-exist with their human compatriots.
For those hoping for cute apes and moments of summer movie whimsy, Reeves does not really have time for that. And, if we have been paying attention, these films have increasingly steered away from those feel-good moments. Flawless in execution, War offers perhaps the most impressive and consistently realistic visual effects we have ever seen, the Oscar race in that category has to be over, and it takes only mere moments to become completely absorbed into this world.
Serkis’ performance is extraordinary, and he delivers a performance that rivals the best work of the year. Caesar continues to hold a personal, moral high ground by pushing back against assimilation and celebrating co-existence. He has several opportunities to kill or capture humans and relents, holding to the notion that loyalty both within his simian community and outside of it still has meaning. When his faith in his inner constitution is challenged, he eventually reaches a breaking point, but never loses focus on who he aims to protect and why he fights for what he believes is just and true.
Inspired by Biblical stories and epics, there are ample moments to draw like comparisons. If you choose to cast a side-eye to War, it becomes perhaps easy to marginalize this work as a treatise critiquing the human race as bullies and personifying the embodiment of arrogance. Along the way, this franchise has shown us moments that can lend credence to that argument. Reeves is pushing past all of that here, offering Woody Harrelson, channeling a strange, but distinctive Col. Kurtz-like character that serves as a source of great anger and vitriol for Caesar. Harrelson’s character, vile at times, vicious in others, takes a shift that we, and Caesar, are not anticipating. Even when our conflicted protagonist again sides with decency, we find ourselves reeling from a moment of tragic consequence that we, like Caesar, cannot begin to wrap our heads around.
Reeves, and co-screenwriter Mark Bomback, has conceived a story that drills down into survival, guilt, and whether or not the fighting and winning of battles truly makes one stronger, or weaker, by victory. These are big concepts for a summer blockbuster to tackle, and War is going to leave people shaken and surprised, the antithesis of your Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s or Mummy‘s or even those obnoxious Transformers.
This is a film of emotional power. It floors you in seemingly every way. The visual effects are perfect. The acting, Serkis deserving of an Oscar nomination, is moving and poignant, while Michael Seresin‘s stunning camera work offers some truly breathtaking sequences. The acclaimed composer Michael Giacchino‘s score is unique, one of the finest works of his career, offering an undercurrent of downbeats and swelling orchestration that make this film feel truly epic and important.
A number of viewers are not going to want to watch this again because it is bleak and violent and eschews warmth and kindness. Reeves earns our emotional investment. War for the Planet of the Apes is top-tier filmmaking and something of a technical masterpiece.
War is not warm. Seldom, if ever, is it kind. Heroism can exist in challenging and unconscionable environments. War for the Planet of the Apes dutifully ends this trilogy in a strong and demanding way. This is a compelling film, unforgettable and cold to the touch. However, just like a character in the film who allows themselves to shed a single, solitary tear at the film’s conclusion, this is a journey and finale I am thrilled to have taken.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Amiah Miller, Michael Adamthwaite, Toby Kebbell, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer.
Director: Matt Reeves
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images.)
Running Time: 139 Minutes
Release Date: July 14, 2017
Chernin Entertainment and 20th Century Fox.
Written by: Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves; based on characters created by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, for the film “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”