Back in 2011, Rise began the resurrection of the dead & dusted Planet of the Apes franchise by taking little inspirations from previous films yet carving a new path of its own. It was a smashing success that rebooted the series on a radically inventive note, and was ranked amongst the finest films of its year. The year of 2014 then saw the release of Dawn which turned out to be an even better & stronger successor that left everyone astonished with its darker premise & post-apocalyptic setting. And this summer, everything that happened in the previous two films finally culminate with War for the Planet of the Apes, the grand finale we’ve been waiting for.
Rise was all about Caesar, the genetically enhanced & super-intelligent chimp, who started a revolution that lead to an ape uprising. The film handled his arc in a smart & tactical manner, while Andy Serkis provided the heart & soul with his spectacular motion-capture performance that made us invest in his character. Then came Dawn, that was all about Caesar rising to the challenge of being a great leader in the gravest of circumstances. And now, War finds him wrestling with his darker instincts, given that he’s in the middle of a war he never wanted to be a part of. Rise introduced him, Dawn developed him, but War is where he becomes a legend of mythic proportions.
Set some time after the events that transpired in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the story of War for the Planet of the Apes finds Caesar & his evolved tribe of apes forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans, who are led by a ruthless Colonel & assisted by former followers of Koba who now serve the humans to defeat Caesar. But when an ape from Caesar’s own clan deflects to the human’s side, resulting in unimaginable losses, Caesar takes it upon himself to avenge his kind, and heads off to find the Colonel, and is joined in his quest by his most faithful followers. And so begins the epic battle that will determine their fate of both their species & the future of the planet.
Co-written & directed by Matt Reeves (who also directed the last instalment), the film opens with a brief but thrilling battle between apes & humans that takes an instant hold of the viewers’ attention, and keeps a firm grip on it for the remainder of its runtime. The story is bleak but also emotionally engrossing, for the stakes are definitely higher this time and Caesar is put to test like never before. However, the plot still feels a bit stretched in the middle, engaging but slower than it needs to be. Reeves’ direction exhibits tremendous restraint as he allows every scene to play its part in building up to the final act, and concludes the saga on an epic, explosive & thoroughly satisfying note.
The screenplay packs a gripping & intimate premise that not only continues Caesar’s journey but also adds more depth & dimensions to his arc, for we witness Caesar not only driven by a personal vendetta but also haunted by nightmares of what he might become in his quest for revenge. Both Rocket & Maurice, his most loyal companions, get meatier arcs of their own, and make the most of their additional screen time. The humans aren’t treated with same care & attention but the Colonel is given shades of grey as his perspective & actions that stem from it are relatable & understandable to an extent. Retribution, survival, sacrifice, slavery, leadership & redemption are some of the themes that the film explores, and does so in a patient yet effective manner.
The post-apocalyptic setting retains its similarity to Dawn, while the expertly chosen locations only add to its harsh surroundings. Cinematography employs the camera in a splendid fashion, and its static manoeuvring & apt use of slow-mo technique helps bring the viewers into its story despite the cold colour palette that further intensifies its grim & wintry ambience. Visual effects are top-notch as expected from Weta Digital, and the rendering of Caesar & rest of apes blends the motion-capture performance & CGI with pitch-perfect exactness. Editing is brilliant for the most part although there are pacing issues in the middle. Last but not the least, Michael Giacchino contributes with a stimulating score that remains in tune with the unfolding scenes throughout the picture.
Coming to the performances, War for the Planet of the Apes finds Andy Serkis, Karin Konoval & Terry Notary reprising their respective roles of Caesar, Maurice & Rocket, with Steve Zahn & Ty Olsson being new additions as Bad Ape & Red respectively. In his third outing as Caesar, Serkis delivers another knockout performance that’s as impeccable as it is soulful, and his screen presence is both dominating & infectious. Toby Kebbel’s Koba only shows up in Caesar’s nightmares, and is somewhat missed. Zahn’s role is that of a comic relief while Olsson’s Red is a former Koba follower who deflected to the human side after Koba was defeated by Caesar. Woody Harrelson is in as The Colonel, and plays his part amazingly well, while Amiah Miller plays Nova, a mute orphan, in a direct reference to the original series.
On an overall scale, War for the Planet of the Apes is another impressive entry in the rebooted Planet of the Apes series, and along with Rise & Dawn makes up for one of contemporary cinema’s greatest trilogies. A strong & remarkably epic end to a saga that began six years ago, its drama may feel a bit shallower than its predecessors by a whisker but it more than makes up for that with its meditative, poignant & morally complex premise about two species fighting to protect their kinds from being wiped out, and is certainly the most emotionally engrossing of the three. While it’s atypical of a summer blockbuster to be this grim & bleak, War for the Planet of the Apes lives up to its enormous hype, and is an emphatic finale that cements its status, and that of its trilogy, as one of the most powerful sagas to ever unfold on the silver screen. Definitely amongst the finest films of the year, this last stand between apes & men is absolutely worth your time & money. Highly recommended.