By Josiah Wampfler
War for the Planet of the Apes is an astounding achievement in filmmaking and the best finale to a trilogy I’ve seen since Peter Jackson’s Return of the King. Director Matt Reeves renders the world in lush colors and brings a type of controlled, sure-handed cinematography rarely seen in modern blockbusters. The action is electric, but not chaotic. It is a type of filmmaking and a type of story that we simply don’t see on this scale anymore where every single frame is deliberate and every camera move is purposeful. With War, Reeves has crafted a modern biblical epic with apes at its core and, though the filmmaking is clearly inspired by cinema of old, it couldn’t feel more fresh.
For the first time in the new Apes trilogy, our main protagonist is Caesar and the film is told almost exclusively from the viewpoint of the apes. After the events of the previous film, Caesar and his apes are engaged in a war with the humans they don’t want any part of. But, after Caesar suffers unimaginable loss at the hands of Woody Harrelson’s character, known only as The Colonel, the war becomes too personal to ignore. In his lust for revenge, Caesar leaves his ape followers to track down The Colonel. The peace-loving ape is in danger of being consumed by his rage and the unintended consequences of his actions put both he and the entire ape nation at risk.
Just like that other great trilogy capper, The Return of the King, War for the Planet of the Apes also happens to feature an astounding motion capture performance from the great Andy Serkis, who deserved an Oscar nomination for his final outing as Caesar. Serkis has always been an incredibly talented actor, but this is the first time he’s had the opportunity to shine like this. Recalling biblical epics of old, War cleverly portrays Caesar as a Moses-like character and Serkis rivals Charlton Heston in the role. This Moses must grapple with his duty and commitment to the ape nation and his rage. And though Serkis does a wonderful job showing us a darker Caesar who’s love for humanity has run out, we can the turmoil raging underneath the surface that is exacerbated by the character of Nova.
What truly makes War for the Planet of the Apes so surprising and wonderful is its boldness in being quiet and being still. While there is action (The film starts and ends with some incredible action scenes), the war that happens in the film is much more of an internal one. The quietness comes from the apes main mode of communication (sign language), but it also comes from the mute Nova. The young girl, played by a superb Amiah Miller, joins the group after her father is killed after attacking the apes and Caesar’s right-hand man Maurice can’t bare to leave her behind. She becomes a constant reminder for Caesar of the goodness of humanity, complicating his hatred and rage.
Due to the inclusion of another character who does not speak, the film quite impressively contains very little spoken dialogue. It is something that actually choked me up when the credits rolled and I thought about it: Matt Reeves delivered a beautiful, big-budget blockbuster that is told almost entirely through images and sign language and prominently features a mute girl who is a representation of the goodness of humanity. Instead of the cluster of noise that most Hollywood blockbusters bring us, War for the Planet of the Apes brings us back to the basics of cinema by truly sticking to the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.
War for the Planet of the Apes contains a multitude of interesting themes that I could go on and on about, but I think it is mainly a film about the all-consuming nature of hatred and rage and the nature of humanity. It is a gorgeous and emotionally resonant end to Caesar’s story filled with incredible CGI from the folks at Wetta, incredible performances from the entire cast (I prefer to think Woody Harrelson’s Oscar nomination for for this film), a lovely score from Michael Giacchino and one of the best stories I’ve seen told in a modern blockbuster. With War, Matt Reeves has made the new Apes trilogy one of the best of all time.
War for the Planet of the Apes is currently available to rent through Google Play, Amazon Video and iTunes. It is also available on DVD and Blu-ray.