A grand finale for the Planet of the Apes reboot series. This time it is the War for the Planet of the Apes and the clue is in the title.
What’s it about?
Soon after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, an army of humans hopes to find Ceasar, which results in suffering unimaginable losses for the lead character. Ceaser shows a darker side as he aims to avenge his losses and puts himself up against the Colonel, the leader of the human army they were hiding from. This also means that the fate of both species is in their hands, really upping the stakes, which are way higher than the previous films. The entire movie feels like an ending to a trilogy but it is delivered masterfully from start to finish in ways that I was not expecting. War for the Planet of the Apes is not only a fantastic movie but it sets a benchmark in how to deliver a memorable trilogy.
So it’s good then?
Good? It is brilliant. There are some movies where you know everything is going to be okay in the first 5 minutes, and War for the Planet of the Apes is one of them. The opening explanation confirms that this trilogy is the full package with the words Rise, Dawn and War presenting themselves to the audience. What happens after that is great filmmaking and continued development of the story. From the trailers, I expected all out war with little emphasis on the story. I was wrong. The third and final installment conjures great storytelling and the war element is an added bonus. The opening scenes set a darker tone for the rest of the film, with the first human encounter, but what really stands out are the performances from Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson. Oh, and the little girl Amiah Miller too – she will not be short of jobs after this.
So why is it so brilliant then?
The problem with trilogies or any other film series is when they have to provide an ending for the main character, there always seems to be this temptation to make the story “bigger and better”, which at times hurts the story and the character development levels off and remains the same from the penultimate film. War for the Planet of the Apes is bigger and better but it does not forget the ingredients that made its predecessors successful. In Rise, Ceasar did not understand his place in the world; in Dawn, he showed his diplomatic nature; and in War, he shows his vengeful side. He is not just seeking revenge for the hell of it, and there is an entire story to justify his objectives, but the most important thing is that Ceasar remains interesting and he is still the core character that you emotionally remain tied to. As I write this I am struggling to think of a more interesting CGI character than Andy Serkis’s Ceasar, and it baffles me that something that is literally generated by a computer can portray such a fantastic acting performance. The character has so many levels to him that you are peeling off layers in all three films, but it feels like a thicker layer in this one; one that you are surprised by and in some ways you did not expect.
There appears to be a trend that from a principle standpoint Ceasar is always tested, and you can feel the whole weight of it in War. Someone tweeted me recently explaining that it is a shame that actors are not recognized in the awards circuits for their work in CGI, and I wholeheartedly agree because if this was released nearer to awards season it would undoubtedly be up for a nomination. As for the humans, again it picks up slightly from where it ended in Dawn, but there is further development on the status of the race. They are not as interesting as the apes (which I always find weird) and they have not been since Rise, but War keeps them relevant by ensuring they have an interesting character to represent them. This is in the form of the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) who as it turns out is a captivating villain. His presence on screen elevates the story to a whole new level with a performance that represents a man that on the surface you would assume is insane but believes in his own self-justified reasons. These type of villains are the best because it gives the main protagonist an equal to go up against. Ceasar vs Colonel is the core strength of this movie with the interesting apes, the young girl, and the war brewing which keeps it standing.
What about the other characters?
The other characters are great and I suppose I’ll have to mention the young girl that the apes come across, who for some reason cannot speak any language. I’m reluctant to discuss this character any further because she provides moments in the plot that will be considered spoilers, but I will say that Amiah Miller’s performance is way more effective than it should be considering her screen time. The character’s actions in this speak louder than words and there is a grandstanding moment in particular that I will always remember when I think of War. As for the apes, they feel way more human than in Dawn, but they still act in ape-like ways. Again, it’s strange that they have managed to make a movie where you feel like they are not apes when they clearly are. I guess that’s the beauty of this trilogy in some respects. There is a new ape on the block called “Bad Ape” and he is purely used to add humor to the storyline, but a part of me felt he was introduced to this story a little too late. It was a little meh, but the heart is in the right place.
A great conclusion then?
Yes. I say that simply because it is. Ceasar’s was always going to be the most important ending, but the way they have wrapped it up with further development and a war on an epic scale should be applauded. Matt Reeves has managed to tie everything up without any annoyances that make you question the thought process behind the narrative. To make easy comparisons where conclusions were not as great; Raimi’s Spider-Man and Nolan’s Batman both had one flawed movie that unfortunately made you question where it stood as a trilogy.
So wait, this is now one of the greatest trilogies?
I heard whispers that War was good before I watched it, and I intentionally avoided reviews, because I toyed with the idea that if the rumors were true then I would have to consider this as one of the greatest trilogies. I think this movie confirms that we now have a great trilogy that does not have much wrong with it. I hope it remains a trilogy because it does not deserve to be tarnished by any spin-off or an unjustified continuation. I would not change the ending either, it is fitting and it works. I guess there is always this huge emphasis of apes vs humans but it really resonates via the characters in all three movies and I am glad that theme remained in the third to tie it all up.
I should also point out that the music score to this movie really helped drive the narrative and credit should be given to Michael Giacchino. I was not aware that he was the composer before the movie began, but I recognized certain strands in the score and his usual blueprint stood out so you can imagine my delight when I saw his name in the credits. The score in many of the scenes is just as important as what it is showing us, especially in moments of build-up or when it helps convey some type of emotion. Like the previous films, it looks fantastic. The apes, the environments and the war scenes are a treat for the eyes.
It is a fitting finale to the trilogy which provides a conclusive and unambiguous ending for the apes and Ceasar. The narrative itself, the continued development of Ceasar, and the introduction of characters like Colonel and the girl, was quite daring at such a late stage with the stakes higher than ever, however, it proved to be a great storytelling experience and I feel it is the strongest from a filmmaking perspective as well. I could not find any obvious negative reasons to not give my first 10 for Ready, Steady Cut!
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Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.