In my opinion, one of the best things to happen to the PLANET OF THE APES franchise was the PLANET OF THE APES reboot series. Before the release of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES in 2011, the franchise was looked back on as a remnant of the 1970s, with the first film being an all-time classic and its sequels being mostly “meh.” And the less said about Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, the better. But when RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was released, not only was it one of my favorite films of the year, but I really felt that it breathed new life into a franchise that desperately needed it. And for the most part, it really was a gamble – who knew that people would still care about a franchise whose heyday was long passed? After the success of RISE, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was just as good as its predecessor, if not better. All of this sets the stage for the “final” film of this reboot trilogy (and the word ‘final’ is in quotes because it’s Hollywood, and everything changes in the drop of a hat), WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Once again, Matt Reeves (the director of DAWN) is back in the director’s chair and Andy Serkis is back as the trilogy’s main character, Caesar, to bring the films’ storyline down the home stretch.
Sometime after the events of DAWN, Caesar (played by Andy Serkis) and his apes clan are suddenly attacked in the woods by a rogue military unit known as Alpha-Omega, who are led by a ruthless Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson). After Alpha-Omega is fought off, a few of its captured soldiers are brought before Caesar, who spares their lives in exchange for bringing a message to the Colonel – that the apes did not start this war but desire peace with the humans. Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes and his confidant Rocket return home from a scouting mission with news that their exploration has yielded a possible new home for the clan. But before they can safely plan their move, Alpha-Omega and the Colonel infiltrate Caesar’s home, and the Colonel slays Caesar’s wife Cornelia and Blue Eyes. Vowing revenge, Caesar sets off with his brothers-in-arms Rocket, Luca, and Maurice, to find the Colonel and put an end to this war once and for all.
Once again, Andy Serkis delivers a terrific performance as Caesar, absolutely stealing every scene that he is in. At this stage in his life, all Caesar really wants is to be able to give his clan a better life, one free of war and pain. Serkis does an amazing job of playing Caesar a little more reserved than his previous two outings throughout the majority of this film, adding more weight to the film’s plotline. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Caesar lets himself get pushed around – most of the “aggressive” Caesar moments are left to the film’s climax, and while it is a slow build to get to that point, the payoff is just fantastic both story-wise and character-wise.
And while Caesar is a great protagonist, Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is just as great a foil. What I liked most about the Colonel is his overall aggressiveness – something that Caesar seemingly no longer possessed. The Colonel is also someone who his revered by his “clan” – in this case, his troops – treated almost like a deity. See the parallels? But while Caesar seeks a lasting peace, the Colonel wants nothing more than to rid the planet of apes forever. But he doesn’t do this out of a “hate” for apes; this is the Colonel’s survival instinct kicking in. The way he sees it? It’s either us or them. The exposition scene between the Colonel and Caesar halfway through the film was not only incredibly acted and performed, but it added weight to both characters and showcased their fundamental differences, which really is Screenwriting 101. This scene (and the film overall) is truly amazing work from two gifted actors.
Having said that, I feel that the pacing of the film is a little bit off; the first 45 minutes of the film just fly by. We are introduced to the film’s central conflict and Caesar’s journey as well as getting to know side characters such as Maurice and the ironically-named Bad Ape (who I’m sure will be a hit with the kiddies, played by Steve Zahn). But once you get to the middle portion, the film does drag for a while – almost seeming like the film itself cannot wait for the climax to get rolling (the Caesar/Colonel scene that I mentioned above is the one real jewel of this portion). Admittedly, there were points that I did find a bit dull as a result, but the last 30 minutes or so are great, edge-of-your-seat stuff. I can’t help but think what better pacing or maybe even editing/trimming could have done for the film.
As a result of this, I’ve come to enjoy WAR slightly less than its predecessors. But I don’t want that statement to detract from how great the film still is. It’s got heart, it’s got action, it’s got good storytelling, a strong protagonist and antagonist, with an ending that puts a bow on the entire journey so far. I can’t say enough about how great both Andy Serkis and Wood Harrelson were here, as without their strong work here, the film could have really fallen below expectations. If this really is the last film in this PLANET OF THE APES reboot series, then I can most certainly say that the series signs off with a bang. But like I said before, it is Hollywood, and with the box office returns that WAR has seen, don’t be surprised if yet another entry to this series pops up sooner or later.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
2017 • 140 Minutes • United States
Color • English • 20th Century Fox
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn