War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn
Synopsis: After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images)
Release Date: July 14, 2017
It's been fifteen years since the outbreak of the Simian Flu Virus, a virus strain developed by humans that was originally designed to be a cure for Alzheimer’s. Since then, the now genetically enhanced apes in the San Francisco Zoo have escaped and lived a conflicting life in the woods near San Francisco. After the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves, 2014), the apes and humans are on the brink of an all-out war that will determine who will be the dominant species on the planet.
Fox's reboot of the Apes franchise, which kicked off in 2011 with Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, has been successful in large part due to its focus on human qualities in the apes. These qualities range from relationships to a sense of home and purpose in life to the emotion conveyed from a technical standpoint by the performance capture implemented in the series. Andy Serkis, who is hailed as a pioneer actor of performance capture from his work as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003) and King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005), plays the main ape character Caesar, who leads the apes in their revolution against the humans. And while Serkis will (tragically) not be nominated anytime soon for his work, a special achievement Oscar is certainly headed his way in the near future. For the third time in this planned trilogy, Serkis brings a passionate, powerful, emotionally-heavy performance to Caesar, a character that never fails to grab your attention and keep you planted in your seat, wondering what action he'll take next. Particularly in this film, Caesar also grapples with the dark side of human nature in the element of revenge, something every human being can relate to at some level and a condition Caesar himself has never had to wrestle with until now.
War expands on Dawn's commentary on humanity by incorporating many well-crafted references to humanity's real-life present and past. The present is commented through humanity's arrogance in being the dominant species and our desire to be the smartest, most powerful beings on earth. This was really introduced in Rise but has flowed through each installment. The past is referenced through Nazi Germany, when humanity committed unimaginable acts against each other, reducing individuals to animals forced to work as slaves or be exterminated.
The film also implements some Biblical themes, particularly with Caesar's character. After Rise, all Caesar wanted was the protection of his family. In this film, he realizes that, in order to assure their safety, they must move from the woods to a place across the desert--a place that has been unseen but is believed to be a lush, fruitful land in which they can finally establish a civilization in peace. To do that, Caesar has to lead the apes out of bondage into freedom--a task that is directly comparable to Moses's assignment from God in the book of Exodus. Just like with Moses, the task isn't easy, and sacrifices have to be made along the way. But in the end, it is all for the freedom and future safety and security of a civilization. It is a beautiful and touching element that is really the core of the film, as Caesar ultimately cares first and foremost for the future survival of his kind, even if it may cost him his life.
Besides the social commentary on humanity's present and historical past and the Biblical themes, War is technically proficient, sporting another dose of dazzling visual effects from WETA (the visual effects studio behind Lord of the Rings). The apes looked convincing enough in Rise, looked solid in Dawn, but they look extraordinary in War. Detail is everywhere, from individual hairs on the apes to the pupils of their eyes and the fog from their breath and nostrils. In a double entendre, Woody Harrelson's character as the colonel of the human group marvels at Caesar's eyes, remarking "My God...look at your eyes...almost human"--a statement that obviously fits with a man encountering an ape up close but also works as the filmmakers themselves complimenting WETA on their incredible CGI work.
War for the Planet of the Apes, like the apes it portrays, is another smart, emotional, visually striking entry in the rebooted Apes franchise. The film does suffer from some minor pacing issues and may be a tad overlong, but, like the two previous entries, the film as a whole is an engrossing drama that succeeds in bringing relatable human elements to the forefront, which is a commendable feat in a film that focuses on apes. Finally, the score by Michael Giacchino should also be praised for its emotional draw on pivotal scenes and epic bursts during some of the action scenes. War succeeds on a thematic and technical level and is a satisfying conclusion to Fox's rebooted Apes series, a series that will surely raise the bar for any future Apes films.