War for the Planet of the Apes is the latest instalment to the Apes series that debuted in Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des Singes. Directed by Matt Reeves, the final instalment in the prequel trilogy is a homage to all things Apocalypse Now and strives to create a confident tie into the original films.
We begin with Caesar coming into contact with humans yet again, in a fight for survival against a bloodthirsty Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) who is obsessed in destroying any trace of the apes, in a desperate attempt to end the threat of humans being overthrown as the dominant species. After blood is spilt, Caesar is overwhelmed with vengeance and enters an obsessive mission to kill the Colonel and avenge the fallen, whilst providing an escape for the threatened apes.
Matt Reeves has multiple influences throughout the runtime which is easily seen in his beautiful camera work. The snowy mountains are a perfect setting for the short but intense conflicts between the opposing factions. His main influence is clearly Apocalypse Now, featuring music and even shot-for-shot recreations of Marlon Brando’s chilling performance as the mad Colonel Kurtz. Woody Harrelson delivers a sombre, hateful character in a soft-spoken voice, heavily reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam masterpiece.
Although it is part of a larger franchise, the film stands on its own two feet and isn’t afraid to attempt powerful messages, and dares to pull deeper philosophical, religious and emotional themes into a film series that, in less capable directorial hands, could dive into B-movie territory. Strongly anti-war in its stance, it earns its heavily Apocalypse Now style.
The animation work on the apes is nothing short of incredible. It seduces you into investing in these emotionally capable characters, and gives a sense of humanity to the computer-generated simians. As always, Andy Serkis absolutely nails his performance and motion work as Caesar, further cementing his role as the best motion capture actor we’ve ever witnessed.
All of the before mentioned, combined with its tense music, short-lived but graphic violence, and surprising overall soul, War for the Planet of the Apes is far the best new instalment to the Apes series. Bearing a heavy 2 hours 20 minutes run time, the feature stands boldly and strongly on its feet, as does Caesar the great ape himself.
Verdict: A great film which any Apes fan shouldn’t miss. Slightly miss-marketed, as the “war” aspect is almost nowhere to be seen in the majority of the feature, however, this doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the slightly sombre movie in any way. Sometimes leaning on its homages a little too heavily, certain scenes can seem “cookie cutter” but nothing close to unbearable. You’ll walk out of the cinema beating your chest and maybe even be thinking about what makes us so different to our ape cousins after all.