War for the Planet of the Apes is the third installment in the Planet of the Apes franchise reboot and second directorial turn for Matt Reeves in the series.
Ape leader Caesar (reprised by Andy Serkis) is at war with a particular military faction of the human species called the Alpha–Omega. This faction is intent on wiping out the apes once and for all, to restore human dominance and power on planet earth. They are led by the mysterious Colonel; (played by Woody Harrelson) a soldier reminiscent of Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Here is a man almost as primal and ruthless as the apes themselves.
Originally hiding in the Muir Woods, Caesar has to contend with the relentless Alpha Omega, but also mutiny from his own tribe. For fear of ambush or a surprise attack, Caesar intends to relocate his clan out into the dessert.
With that, continues a deadly game of war, betrayal and survival for the Apes.
This latest Apes franchise is arguably the strongest reboot in sci-fi and fantasy since Christopher Nolan’s Batman series. Like the caped crusader, Apes put an emphasis on character development and story ahead of all out action and special effects. In War for the Planet of the Apes, the various struggles of the human condition are thoroughly investigated, and that allows us to care as much for the apes as the humans. There are many scenes that pack an emotional punch, some that had me genuinely excited, happy and even in tears. The same cannot be said for certain Transformers movie characters, who all feel like glorified cartoon caricatures aimed at selling toys. The Apes in contrast have real depth.
CGI and motion capture play a massive part in making this series engaging and believable. Actor Andy Serkis is the man in motion capture performance, and he again does an excellent job portraying and developing the Caesar role. The supporting Apes are excellent too, with performances by Steve Zahn as Bad Ape and Karin Konoval as Maurice. The Apes in general seem so real and humanlike that you could be forgiven in thinking of this as a standard crime drama similar to Heat or even The Godfather. Director Matt Reeves deserves a lot of credit here. The pacing of this film works well too; ranging from slow character based, tension building scenes, to electric action sequences.
Like most blockbusters these days, the film is not short, at nearly two and a half hours. It may have been more effective with twenty minutes shaved off. But that’s a minor complaint.
My only criticism in this film is the script and the miscasting of Woody Harrelson as the Colonel. He certainly looks the part, but the actor is simply too much of a good guy to pull off such an enigmatic and evil figure. This can be blamed on typecasting, but he has generally played everymen heroes or quirky characters. Someone darker like Benicio Del Toro would’ve fit the bill much better here.
To be fair, Harrelson is badly let down by the script at times, his lines are so deliberate and literal at times it almost feels like a listening comprehension for English language learners. It’s not so apparent when the apes speak, but at times the script makes you cringe.
All in all despite its flaws, War for the Planet of the Apes is still a very solid addition to the Apes Franchise, and definitely one of the best action films of the year so far. My only worry is a few too many Ape films to come.