Few could have predicted that 2011’s prequel/reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes would wow audiences and critics alike. It redeemed Tim Burton’s god-awful 2001 revival of the classic sci-fi franchise, and paved the way for a sequel with Shakespearian undertones which improved upon the good work of its predecessor. And now, War for the Planet of the Apes proves the rarest of beasts: a threequel that might well be the best of the series.
Returning director Matt Reeves (who also co-wrote this chapter with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes scribe Matt Bomback) brings this new trilogy to a close by pitting the apes, under the leadership of Caesar (Andy Serkis), against The Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson as a hopped-up Kurtz with a penchant for simian genocide. The overall storytelling yields few surprises, but the unfussy structure leaves room for a character-driven tale that impresses due to its deliberate pacing, thrilling visual effects and, above all, its audaciously bleak tone. Make no mistake: War for the Planet of the Apes is one of this summer’s blockbuster standouts, but just like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, it’s far from your typical escapist summer fare. This is a war film that dares to combine tightly-executed action pieces with nods to The Great Escape, Auschwitz iconography and some unexpectedly affecting moments between the remarkably rendered ape characters.
Like the previous entries, War… is propelled by its dexterous handling of the performance capture medium, and by the ever-reliable Andy Serkis. If the series has gone from strength to strength, it is in large part thanks to his nuanced turn as the advanced simian who grapples with his conflicting feelings about humanity, a duality here embodied by Harrelson’s zealot and the impressive Amiah Miller, playing a mute orphan who conveys volumes with a single smile. This intense, hugely satisfying film delivers further proof why motion-capture performances should be Oscar-eligible, and further cements Reeves as the go-to talent for delivering smart, epic blockbusters worth going *cough* ape over. It certainly bodes well for the filmmaker’s next project, upcoming DC Studios tentpole release, The Batman.
War for the Planet of the Apes | Directed by Matt Reeves (US, 2017), with Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller. Starts August 3.
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