War for the Planet of the Apes review

Title: War for the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis,
Woody Harrelson,
Steve Zahn,
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-fi,
Runtime: 2 Hours 20 mins
Music: Michael Giacchino
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Certificate: US: PG-13
UK: 12A
Release Date: US: Jul 14 2017
UK: Jul 11 2017
See If You Like: Rise of the Planet of the Apes,
The Great Escape,

Opening with a brief recap of the previous two films, War for the Planet of the Apes dives headlong into a fantastically shot woodland skirmish between apes and humans; a stunning piece of action cinema where Platoon meets Gladiator, meets Rogue One, and sets the tone for what is to be a constantly evolving, consistently engaging, ride of intense emotion. A breathtaking visual and emotional journey which proves Hollywood can still make an intelligent blockbuster.

Set several years after the events of both Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which saw a group of intelligent apes, led by their benevolent leader Caesar; a chimp, mo-capped and brilliantly acted by Lord of the Rings star Andy Serkis; escaping the confines of their lab/zoo/animal control cages and fleeing into the woods just outside San Francisco), and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (where, after a simian flu had wiped out the majority of the Earth’s human population, and an internal power struggle led to an inevitable confrontation between the apes and a group of human survivors), War sees Caesar and his ever-expanding ape colony hunted by a group of ruthless, well-armed soldiers, led by a fanatical colonel (played by Natural Born Killers star Woody Harrelson).

Battles ensue, prisoners are taken, war crimes committed, and after Caesar is given a legitimate reason to go ape, the whole thing transcends the species-wide genocide it had become, and evolves into a deeply personal, hate-fuelled, quest for revenge between two utterly uncompromising leaders. It also shifts focus a couple of times, switching from the large-scale skirmish opening to much more personal and empathetic journey; ensuring the entire film is both easy to access and relate to, and utterly engrossing throughout.

War for the Planet of the Apes maintains this tight-knit, emotionally affecting tone throughout its incredibly well-paced 2 hour 20 minute runtime. You not only feel for the individual characters, and recognise the flaws in each (one of the franchise’s best qualities is the characters’ grey areas; both Caesar and the so-called ‘bad guys’ have their flaws, but all stem from relatable and sympathetic motivations), but constantly feel the weight over the overall problem; we’re worried about Caesar, his friends, etc. and always know what victory or defeat will mean for the fate of the planet; meaning War is a film which is highly intimate, yet undeniably epic in both scope and execution

In fact, War for the Planet of the Apes is the first film in 15 years which can truly be described as an epic; having the vision, confidence and, most importantly, a character-based plot with true emotional drive, to stand alongside the great epics of cinematic history, and indeed the Charlton Heston original Planet of the Apes (1968).

We’re once again treated to a number of homages, easter eggs, and nods to the original film series, where character names, places, and objects all serve to give die-hard franchise fans that little extra-something, but one of the best comes in the form of Michael Giacchino’s outstanding and highly emotive score; subtly (and not so subtly at times) enhancing every aspect of the movie, effectively tugging on the heart strings, while both feeling fresh and also sounding very familiar; constantly harking back to the Apes’ cinematic roots.

Yet War for the Planet of the Apes looks nothing like its 1968 original, not only has the pacing and tone improved dramatically, but the special effects are so far ahead of what we saw back then. Even in the six years since Rise, the quality of the CGI and motion-captured apes has improved tenfold, to the point where Caesar and co. really are photo realistic. They don’t just look believable, they are believable, and every little nuance in Serkis and co.’s performances are now conveyed with such effectiveness you can almost forget you’re watching an ape; proving it’s past time for the Academy, and other awarding bodies, to start recognising performances such as these.

Though it’s not just Serkis who excels; Terry Notary and Karin Konoval return as Rocket and Maurice respectively, and Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyers Club) joins the cast as the immensely likeable Bad Ape (a comedy character providing just the right amount of light-hearted laughs and exposition to make him a tragic joy to behold). Woody Harrelson is also as strong and commanding as ever playing the merciless Colonel; a character who’s easy to hate, yet impossible not to empathise with.

Returning director Matt Reeves (who’s also been upgraded to screenwriter this time around) has done a truly fantastic job all round, not only shooting a film which is both intimate and epic at the same time, but crafting some highly engaging, shocking, and brilliantly shot action sequences. Cinematography is also exceptionally beautiful, and aside from one or two easy to miss/ignore editing/continuity snafus there really are no faults with this truly magnificent movie.

An exceptionally rare thing in the movie world today; a blockbuster with substance. War for the Planet of the Apes doesn’t take it’s audience for granted, never panders or takes the easy option with needless set pieces, and remains a tightly crafted masterpiece of modern cinema throughout. An emotional, character-driven, film which will have you thinking about it hours after you’ve left the theatre.

In fact, it’s so well written and acted, the engaging, character-driven, plot complete with all its unexpected twists and turns means whole film is a real emotional rollercoaster from start to finish; you feel betrayed, gung-ho, hurt by loss, hurt by pain, you feel pity, you feel remorse, you find yourself uplifted, laughing, and crying, and doing it all again, and again; because War is so well crafted, contains so many true stand-out moments, and is so utterly engrossing, you really do take a journey with these characters, and begin to feel for them. That’s why War isn’t only a stand-out summer blockbuster, a fantastic finish to a tremendous trilogy, and a wonderfully exciting and heartfelt movie in its own right, but a new frontrunner for film of the year.

Not only is War for the Planet of the Apes a fantastic film, as both Rise and Dawn have been, but connects to the previous instalments so well it creates a truly cohesive whole, builds from and surpasses the successes of its predecessors, and forms the most complete, well-rounded, and fulfilling trilogy ever released – because Apes, together, strong.

Matt Wheeldon@TheMattWheeldon.

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Matt Wheeldon is the Founder, and Editor in Chief of Good Film Guide. He still refers to the cinema as "the pictures", and has what some would describe as a misguided appreciation for Waterworld.