The culmination of the Planet of the Apes reboot / prequel trilogy was never going to be a particularly happy one. Matt Reeves and co. spin a particularly dark final chapter in War for the Planet of the Apes, as human and ape suffer alike. It’s not a film without hope or kindness, but these moments are few and far between – lights at the end of a long tunnel. All that said, this is a beautiful, artfully shot blockbuster, continuing this series’ trend of being far better than it has any right to be.
Apes ride on horseback across gorgeous yet desolate landscapes, that haven’t felt humanity’s interference in a long time – it truly feels like a world repossessed, as we don’t see a human structure until the film is well underway. Even then, it’s clear that Earth is past the point of no return – even though the apes thrive, things feel dire. The film opens on a brutal battle as Woody Harrelson’s ruthless, single-minded character known only as ‘The Colonel’ hunts for Caesar, who is weary of war and haunted by images of Koba, the previous film’s antagonist.
There’s few blockbusters that are as confident as this one, with most of the cast, aside from a couple of the leads, talking in sign language. It’s a testament to the power of the motion capture performances that we can tell the apes apart, know them, and care for them. It also helps that the quality of the motion capture is the best it has ever been in this series – the emotions in every ape’s face is as clear as day, and extreme close-ups only emphasise the quality of the film’s CGI.
There’s plenty of emotion to go around in this final chapter, and the performances utterly sell it – the gentle Bornean orangutan Maurice and new character Bad Ape providing much pathos as well as levity. War for the Planet of the Apes is a real testament to Andy Serkis’s continued championing of the art of motion capture.
Outside of this, Reeves takes heavy inspiration from both the original Apes films as well as Vietnam War films. This influence is very explicitly referenced first in the writing on soldier’s helmets, then even more so with a shot of graffiti saying ‘Ape-Pocalypse Now’. As for the influence from the original, this is mainly seen in Michael Giacchino’s fantastic soundtrack, which feels as though it could be lifted from an older epic – mixing grand strings with primal drums.
The film can feel almost relentlessly bleak – though there are some well-timed moments of comedy with Bad Ape, the misery often feels without end. This is simultaneously refreshing when compared to other blockbusters that often wish to placate, but somewhat exhausting at points. Still, it’s encouraging that expensive, large scale action blockbusters can be as thoughtful and daring as this one.
For all its technical wonder, War for the Planet of the Apes realises that the emotion is what sells the premise. Very rarely does the thought occur that you’re watching a film about hyper-intelligent apes going to war on horseback, unless it’s in total awe.
War for the Planet of the Apes is available on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital now.
Dir: Matt Reeves
Scr: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Toby Kebbel
Prd: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
DOP: Michael Seresin
Music: Michael Giacchino
Country: USA/Canada/New Zealand
Run time: 140 mins