Rating: A or 9 Damn Dirty Apes out of 10!
Synopsis: In the Aftermath of Koba’s unprovoked attack on a human community, Andy Serkis’ Caesar is in conflict with a military force led by Woody Harrelson as the Colonel.
The Planet of the Apes franchise is a brilliant example of what can be discussed using science fiction. The original franchise were meditations on science vs. religion, evolution, class, nuclear fallout, and somewhat controversially race. (We’ll get into that later). The rebooted franchise continues this legacy by tackling subjects like big pharma, prejudice, and even gun control. Not too shabby for a movie with talking apes in it! Not only does it continue the legacy of strong allegory, it also tells the personal journey of Caesar. We have seen this young Ape grow into a beloved leader over the course of the first two films. Rise and Dawn are brilliant films adding to a grand legacy. Basically, the hype for War is huge. How does it hold up?
The story of War is an incredibly fitting final chapter for Caesar’s story. It is the story of a leader trying to de-escalate a conflict, only to be pushed to the edge by an attack against his family. Andy Serkis reprises his role as Caesar brilliantly. I’m sure I’m beating the film nerds’ dead horse by proclaiming, “Give Serkis an Oscar!” But by god, he truly deserves all the praise for his performance in these films. Serkis plays Caesar as the stern leader that we’ve come to expect, but also performs a wide array of emotional states. He goes from loving father to vengeful to emotionally devastated. With the aid of the brilliant effects from Weta and a well-crafted story, Serkis’ final outing as Caesar is an acting powerhouse.
Woody Harrelson’s Colonel makes for a great antagonist. Harrelson portrays him with an unflinching sense of duty and brutality. His motives and cruel actions are, in his eyes, the only way to save humanity from extinction. His actions aren’t out of bigotry or personal tragedy- he is a soldier doing his duty. There is a specific scene in the film that cements how ruthless he is in his cause. The Colonel is very memorable and is a welcome addition to the great antagonists in the Apes franchise.
The film’s supporting cast is well performed and memorable. The actors portraying the apes do an excellent job emoting and giving their characters’ personality. Maurice especially shines with new character Nova. His back and forths with Nova are charming and add a bit of hope to a very dour film. Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape humor might seem out of place but the character is given enough depth to justify his presence. The gorillas Winter and Red make for understandable yet vile henchman for Harrelson’s Colonel. A criticism I’ve had for the rebooted films is the female characters being pushed to the sidelines. Unfortunately, War does not improve on the male to female ratio. While Nova and a new ape character (Lake) are welcome additions, they mostly serve as either plot points or inactive players in the story. Despite this, the cast is excellent and deserve as much praise as Serkis’ Caesar.
The film goes darker than any other Apes film before it. You can see Matt Reeves is channeling a lot from previous war films like Apocalypse Now, but he still maintains his unique vision. The violence is genuinely shocking and hard to look at in some places. It would appear that the goal was to show the true brutality of war and cruelty. It is shot brilliantly but the audience is never meant to enjoy any of it. This is war and war is not glorious. It is incredibly satisfying to see action that has a purpose beyond just looking cool. I have to commend Reeves for being incredibly bold with the imagery to enhance the story. He wasn’t afraid to go into some really dark places to challenge the audience.
The film is not only is daring with its violence and imagery, it also discusses very relevant themes. Reeves paints the human antagonists with fascist imagery akin to what you would see on the far right or with Neo Nazis. If the fascist overtones were not obvious enough, the film is mostly spent in a concentration camp for the apes. The humans fear of being displaced by literally another race they fear is very similar to the irrational anxieties of white nationalists. I’m a bit on the fence with this choice of allegory. The film does show that the actions of the humans in the name of survival are both cruel and ultimately prolonging the inevitable. However using Apes as a direct allegory to certain ethnicities can be problematic in this day in age. Without getting into spoilers, I can see how some viewers may misinterpret the film’s overall message of tolerance and dignity in the face of inevitable change. Perhaps the message would be made stronger with more human characters on the side of the apes than just Nova. Either way, the themes work for what the film is going for, but I fear some of the implications of the film could be problematic or misinterpreted.
The film is a great ending to a truly extraordinary trilogy. Andy Serkis is undoubtedly one of the best actors working today. Woody Harrelson makes a great antagonist. The rest of the cast is highly memorable. The story and themes are both ambitious and highly relevant. The direction and cinematography elevate the performances and visceral action. This reboot trilogy surpasses the originals and is truly remarkable science fiction.