War for the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Reeves, is a film that is so full of a fulfilling emotional resonance and a defining central role in Caesar (Andy Serkis) that this is one of those films that leaves its mark on the summer blockbuster season and absolutely stands out from what is usually a pretty bland assortment of films. I’ve loved this new set of Planet of the Apes films since the beginning and I’m looking forward to breaking down this final instalment and exploring what it does well, but also what it struggles to fully succeed at. So, let’s find our way out of this intro and into the main review itself.
In the final instalment, Caesar – played by Andy Serkis – comes up against his greatest foe, The Colonel – played by Woody Harrelson. Caesar will be pushed to his limits and his fellow apes will be used as the fodder that could see them all eventually wiped out. Caesar must overcome a tyrannical leader and make sure that he and his fellow apes make out alive and to a new home where they can all live safely and peacefully, but there will be sacrifice and casualties along way.
The through line for all three of these films has of course been Caesar. A character who has grown and developed in such a clearly defined way. It has been fulfilling to watch, and in War for the Planet of the Apes, the culmination to Caesar’s growth is perhaps the most meaningful yet. Not only because the technology used to bring him to life is at its best, and thus can show the depths of the character’s emotions, but also because there has clearly been much attention put into making sure that the growth of the character is at the forefront of everything. It is still a little crazy to me that a digitally created ape – backed up by a stellar performance from Andy Serkis – feels as real as any other normal actor on-screen. The technology is simply faultless and the development of the character has been, and is so rewarding for anyone who has been with the films since the beginning.
I’ve mentioned it many times before (in other reviews), that I struggle to connect or believe in a character that is made fully with computers. I can’t help but see that it is a thing created by a team of visual effects artists and thus I simply find it impossible to make any sort of meaningful connection to said creature. But the Planet of the Apes films have always been the exception to that. The performance capture that is utilised in these films has always been ahead of the game, with each instalment, and this film is clearly the best yet. I fully believed that Caesar was a real-life character. My brain was tricked. I did not see the seams between reality and digitally created, I saw Caesar, I saw apes standing alongside real human characters and for me they were one in the same. Looking into Caesar’s eyes and having this imposing, commanding character looking back was something I was simply in awe of (and always have been). I don’t think I can praise the technology enough and I also can’t forget that Andy Serkis does something incredible with this character.
At this point in the third film, Caesar is now a fully realised individual. He is instantly recognisable, and I don’t think people ever stop to consider that it is a digitally formed character that is leading these films and not the big-name actors who are also in them (James Franco, Gary Oldman Woody Harrelson). So, after two previous films (Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) this is a franchise that has a well-established past – in both story and characters – and through them all, Caesar has been the one who has always commanded the screen and been a character who has forever been rich in layers and emotion. And, Andy Serkis must absolutely be praised for the successful time and work he has put into bringing the character to life, which for me has been a joy to watch from beginning to end.
I can’t imagine the difficulties that director Matt Reeves faced when bringing all the elements of this film together – both real and digitally created – but I at no point didn’t believe that I wasn’t watching Caesar and his fellow apes try to overcome a terrible situation. I challenge anyone to not be amazed by the believability of Caesar and I challenge anyone to not feel some sort of connection to him.
But it was not only Caesar who stood out in the film and made their presence known. Woody Harrelson (as The Colonel) really does deliver a sinister and unflinchingly cruel antagonist. He was a fascinating character to me and there were a few reasons for that. The first being how the film handles his introduction. It is sometime before we actually meet the character in person. Before that we hear his voice delivering cold, callous orders over the radio, or we hear other people speak of his cruelty and his determination to kill Caesar and wipe out all the apes. He is built up as this very dangerous force; one that must be stopped because he himself will never stop. He will sacrifice anything and anyone to achieve his mission and that makes him more dangerous than anyone else on-screen.
For me, the rules that The Colonel followed, the ideals that made up who he was, made him someone who was utterly fascinating to watch – and Harrelson does a great job of embodying those attributes. And there is perhaps no greater moment in the film than when he and Caesar come face-to-face. These two leaders who are unwavering in their way of commanding makes for a meeting that is bubbling over with tension. I was eagerly awaiting the first time the two would meet and the moment did not disappoint. It was in fact may favourite scene in film.
Anytime the two of them were on-screen together was elevating for the film and commanding of my attention. And again, I at all times believed that these were two real characters coming together and battling with their morals and their ideals, which is weird to me still because one of them was a digitally created ape that spoke very good English.
And the dualities between the two characters make for some really interesting interactions and some of the most compelling points in the film. To watch the two of them meet and to see them come to blows over similar ideals and to also watch how they both approach some difficult situations, I think shows the depth that has always been present in these films. Caesar, an evolved ape, acts more human and with more self-control than his opponent, but you’d expect his human counterpart to be the one exuding these qualities. Instead, the Colonel is cruel, almost animal like in his actions and thoughts. He closes out his emotions and utilises his might, his sway over his soldiers, rather than rational thought. And Caesar is the opposite. This makes for two richly interesting characters who have such a presence on-screen.
But these films have always been rich in characters with very defined opinions and ideals. Koba – played by Toby Kebbell – or Malcolm – played by Jason Clarke – being perfect examples. However, the films haven’t always had the strongest of plots. They’ve usually been pretty basic in structure and haven’t ever been the most stimulating part of the Apes films. And sadly, War for the Planet of the Apes is much the same. I found the plot in this film to be poorly paced, oddly structured and frankly a little dull at times.
This isn’t a film that ever feels like it has any momentum to it. It constantly feels like it is stalling out and then trying to get itself going again. At some points, things were so haphazard in their delivery, that it felt like it was being made-up as it went along. It also doesn’t help that the film is nearly 2 hours and 20 minutes long. There are certainly points in the film where it drags and it feels like very little progress is actually being made. It’s a shame because the film boasts such well-defined characters and they are unfortunately let down by the plot and its pacing (at times).
I was still engaged by what was happening, but I just wasn’t that stimulated by what I was watching all the time. Thankfully I still had Caesar and the Colonel to fall back on and be interested by. And also, as I pointed out earlier there is an emotionally resonant core that is forever pulsating throughout this film and it is aided – elevated – by an absolutely wonderful orchestral score by Michael Giacchino.
Usually in large blockbuster films, music isn’t ever something that gets much chance to have any fanfare to it. However, in War for the Planet of the Apes there is a clear and constant offering of music, which is always greatly complimenting the moment in which it is being used in. It helps to make the already emotionally charged scenes all the more memorable and I was always glad to be hearing it and experiencing it along with the film.
War for the Planet of the Apes certainly stumbled in places and some may be disappointed by those stumbles – they may even cause some to dislike the film. But there is something to this film that causes it to leave its mark on you. Many of the elements within this film come together to deliver a film that is memorable, emotional and certainly one of the stand outs in what has been a mixed bag of blockbuster experiences in 2017.
And so, for me, looking back on this film, I’m really happy with how it has concluded a franchise that I have thoroughly enjoyed each instalment of. I think most fans of these films will be happy with what this final chapter offers and while it’s sad that it is over, I’m glad to see it go out on a high-note.
So, I will be recommending War for the Planet of the Apes. This is a film that continues the already great development of its characters, it takes the performance capture technology and shows what it is truly capable of, and overall it is an enjoyable, emotional end to a great trilogy. Fans of the previous films will surely love it, and if you haven’t seen any of them yet, then what are you doing here reading this? Get out there and watch this brilliant set of films.
So I’m of course eager to hear what you thought of the film and my review. So feel free to leave any opinions or feedback in the comment section down below. If you want to know when I post a new review, may I suggest following my blog directly and following me over on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. I’ll leave you now by saying thank you and I hope you have a wonderful week.