It’s hard to believe all those years ago when a remake for The Planet of the Apes movie that we’d end up so… excited. It’s hard to believe: but there was a time when the series was lying dormant after the disastrous Tim Burton-led and Mark Wahlberg starring remake (two words: Ape Lincoln) crashed the franchise. But Rise of the Planet of the Apes created a fantastic and modern genesis for the series: showing how Caesar could grow to resent humanity for costing him everything and how in the end humanity’s destruction by its own hand. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes built on that by not having the rise of simians lead to a prompt extinction of humanity. Having Caesar make a valid attempt to work with humans, only for one of his own apes trapping them on the same self-destructive urge for war that led humanity into flatlining was beautiful poetry. War for the Planet of the Apes follows that up with a flourishing ape community that just wants to be left alone, human race on its knees and the events that will bring them on a collision course to destruction.
As always: the best part of these movies is Andy Serkis. While that may be akin to saying that water is wet at this point in his career, he always manages to find a way to top himself. With Caesar this is a character whose evolution he’s been allowed to chart over three movies. And here he’s at the twilight of his life: one who’s tired of endless war, who wants to be a more compassionate figure towards humanity, but too broken and angry to ever allow it to end. Serkis plays all of that regret and heartbreak to the hilt. His physicality has also never remained the same as he ages: from young ape, to older and now at the very end, it’s a great spotlight for what motion capture can do when effectively used as a tool instead of as a crutch.
Woody Harrelson’s performance as the Colonel also functions as a superb counterpoint to Serkis’ performance. While the audience is human: The Planet of the Apes series has always made rocket fuel out of the essential inhumanity of humankind and why we’re doomed to die. War understands this and while the hows and whys are a bit different than you’re lead to believe: this was inevitable. The Colonel as a character who while ostensibly is trying to save humanity from extinction or domination by the apes is an avatar of its worst impulses and is every bit as oppressive a force as Caesar ever could be and Harrelson plays that monstrous nature to the hilt, as well as the tender feelings that hardened his heart perfectly.
Matt Reeves’ work here does a superb job of being able to switch between the more intense explode-y spectacle that you’d expect of a blockbuster movie, but also does a great deal to sell the more introspective and biting moments, especially scenes that have Caesar and the Colonel going mano-a-mano have the same intensity as any of those other scenes. There’s also a great deal of obvious metaphor from human history drawn towards its downfall: the Biblical plagues, concentration camps and stark base human racism for fuel here. It all comes together in a very bleak and yet somehow hopeful story about the apes transcending their origins as secondary to humanity, whilst their progenitors slide backwards into savagery. It’s not often I’d go to this term: but War for the Planet of the Apes is the thinking man’s blockbuster and certainly worth seeing.
4 Bad Apes out of 5