In the third and final installment (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), “War for the Planet of the Apes”, ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his ape army are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless man simply called ‘The Colonel” (Woody Harrelson). He is an iron-fisted leader obsessed with wiping out both Caesar and his entire tribal army to preserve human’s role as the dominant species on the planet. But after the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his “ape” kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and The Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both species and the future of the planet.
REVIEW: “War for the Planet of the Apes” has as an impressive first 20 minutes as well as overall first hour of any film I have seen this year. I was actually overwhelmed by the meticulous commitment by Director Matt Reeves to creating something memorable right from the start in the way of its intense gut wrenching battle between the humans and apes. It is so infused with raw moment to moment life and death struggles, genuine emotions and moving intimacy, I actually felt my physical body decompress away from the back of my theater seat when the battle was finally over. To be sure nothing will ever exceed the energy, chaos, death and destruction of Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” Allied invasion on Omaha Beach, but “WFTPOTA” does a superb technical effort in creating something special in its own right.
While “WFTPOTA” is being marketed and promoted as a summer block buster action thriller film, its real strength is having a real soul of something that is more powerful aligned with the likes of something you would find viewing in the way of a small budget art house type film. Its story line has not one frame that is sloppy, superfluous, unneeded, redundant or excessive. Rather the movie hits all of its grand and subtle marks with precision making “WFTPOTA” just something thrilling, beautiful and compelling to experience.
While I know the Academy of Arts and Science will never do it because he is an animated Ape, still Actor Serkis deserves serious consideration for an Academy Award nomination as Best Actor for his “Caesar”. He is so brilliant, memorable and sometimes absolutely believable as a talking Ape that you actually forget he is playing an Ape and nor do you even care. In fact in an odd way with an interesting psychological twist, his performance is so strong you find yourself rooting for his character to annihilate and obliterate the entire human race……….Now that is acting.
If you see this and I highly, highly recommend you should, the second half of the film touches on several previous films through the historical prism of stories involving humans debasing other humans. Such as in Director Francis Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” you will see Woody Harrelson giving a very solid performance channeling his adapted version of Marlon Brando’s Colonel Walter E. Kurtz living in the jungle murdering with impunity. You will also see moments from Charlton Heston biblical Moses leading his people to freedom in “The Ten Commandments”. And you will see the brutality of humans to inflict pain on other humans in the more recent films “12 Years a Slave” (and The Civil War) and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of The Christ”.
On the lighter side there are other films that “WFTPOTA” drew inspiration from such efforts as the 1963 Steve McQueen’s “The Great Escape” and by actress Amiah Miller who plays a mute teenager named “Nova” offering her subtle nod to the famed silent screen movie star Faye Wray who was most noted for playing the female lead in the 1933 film “King Kong” (get it silent mute – silent screen star).
While I do feel that the films lost just a tad of its momentum ever so slightly when the focus was too long on the concentration camp for captured apes and the subplot for them being there, the overall arc of the story itself still never loses any of its humanity nor its compass on always being intelligent and clearly measured in its thinking about the importance of family, loyalty and freedom.
“WFTPOTA” is a very powerful emotional film that grabs you and never lets you free from its clutches. On the surface of things the film touches on the obvious plot points of betrayal, joy, love and bravery. In the more subjective and subtle areas the film effectively takes you through the range of emotions that are shocking, heartbreaking, uplifting and life reaffirming.
For a film that is in its thirds installment, “WFTPOTA” felt fresh and imaginative from the beginning to its very end that in my estimation sends this reimagined franchise off into a very satisfying sun setting finale.