2 hours, 20 minutes
PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned.
for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images
Andy Serkis ...
Woody Harrelson ...
Steve Zahn ...
Karin Konoval ...
Amiah Miller ...
Terry Notary ...
Ty Olsson ...
Michael Adamthwaite ...
Toby Kebbell ...
Gabriel Chavarria ...
Judy Greer ...
Sara Canning ...
Devyn Dalton ...
Aleks Paunovic ...
Alessandro Juliani ...
War for the Planet of the Apes has some of the richest
characterizations of all the “Apes” movies, along with the
next-level special effects work of bringing an ape army to life with expressive,
emotional faces. Like its two predecessors, it has its flaws — and each of them has had unique ones — but overall, this is a trilogy that will
stand as an example of how to remake and reimagine familiar material in a
way that respects the original while also enhancing it.
Following the death of human-hating ape Koba (Toby Kebbell) and skirmishes with what’s left of the U.S. Army, Caesar
(Andy Serkis) hopes to lead his ape community to a new home where they
can finally live in peace. But as the film opens, a squadron of soldiers
is advancing upon the apes’ forest hideaway, leading to a violent
clash. Caesar spares the lives of a handful of humans so they can tell
their commanding office, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), to back off, but
the Colonel instead mounts another attack, killing several apes in
Caesar’s immediate family.
Obsessed with revenge, Caesar sends the other apes off to
find their new homeland while he deals with the Colonel, but he is
joined by several close confidants, including Maurice (Karin Konoval),
Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite). Along the way, the
group grows to include a young mute girl (Amiah Miller)
and escaped zoo animal Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who has been hiding out in
an abandoned ski resort.
Caesar comes to learn that the Colonel has captured Caesar’s entire
tribe, imprisoning them in a labor camp for diabolical purposes, leading
to the inevitable titular conflict. The screenplay makes it clear
that Caesar’s lust for vengeance has blinded him from his duties as a
leader, and that his failure to forgive has led to the coming bloodshed.
Whereas previous Apes movies made Caesar one of the only
notable characters, aided greatly by Serkis’ brilliantly empathetic and
expressive motion-capture work, here we get a more intricate ensemble of
characters, with Maurice and Bad Ape in particular standing on their
own. (It’s because these protagonists are so fully fleshed-out that the
film earns its visual references to the westerns of John Ford and its
thematic shout-outs to the Old Testament.)
Granted, the human characters are once again far less
interesting, but making us relate so much to Caesar and his comrades is
what helps to underscore the pacifist bent of the series. After all, if
we’re rooting for one side, and we are the other side, shouldn’t we want
both sides to avoid conflict altogether?
The action proceeds at a thrilling clip, aided immensely by
the great Michael Giacchino score. The composer never settles into a
groove, with instrumentations varying from simple percussion to full orchestra, and with themes that never feel like mere
repetitions of what has come before. It’s a stirring soundtrack that
accentuates, but never overwhelms, what we’re seeing.
We take the effects work of the Apes films for granted
because it’s both seamless and ambitious, but this takes motion-capture to new
heights. Whether it’s an army of apes on horseback or the climactic
blow-out battle, or intimate moments between Maurice and the equally
mute young girl, these films make us believe what we’re seeing
without ever thinking about the complicated technology or hours of
detailed work required in the post-production process.