Okay, fair warning here; it’s literally impossible to talk about this movie without giving away the ending of its predecessor – so, apologies, but this review will contain spoilers for both Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Now, I’m not the biggest Planet of the Apes fan in the world. I enjoyed the original Charlton Heston movie every so often if it was playing at Christmas, or something like a lot of those types of movies end up doing, but it definitely has some interesting ideas. I have read a few related comics that have been half decent, including some very cool examples, where we had Predator versus Planet for the Apes, but I was never really captured by it. That was until the series was rebooted again in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
I went in with minimal expectations because I was not a fan of the Tim Burton remake, and the idea of doing a prequel story seemed unnecessary to me. However I couldn’t have been more wrong, and as a result, we’ve had two really fantastic films out of it.
I rewatched Rise and Dawn in preparation for reviewing this film, and my opinion hasn’t changed. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is still a fantastic film, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is possibly even better.
Rise’s only major weakness was that it was a bit too short, which meant we didn’t get enough of the actual ‘rising’ element. I know I normally complain that movies overrun their run time, but I actually think that Rise could have been a two hour film, as opposed to the hour and forty minutes that it was. War of the Planet of the Apes came out of the fact that Dawn ended on a note suggesting that the franchise would continue.
The film was directed by Matt Reeves, who also co-wrote alongside Mark Bomback, which had me a tad worried, considering Bomback’s previous screenplays include medium to okay films like Die Hard 4, The Wolverine, to absolutely atrocious movies like Insurgent and the Total Recall remake. He also was not involved in the writing of any of the previous films in the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise.
Reeves may not have directed Rise, but he carried it over pretty well with Dawn, so I was expecting him to be able to recapture it with War.
I was especially hoping that he hadn’t lost his touch, as he has recently been announced to be directing the next Batman film, but I won’t get into a conversation about what a production mess that film is turning out to be, having it been announced this week that Ben Affleck’s original script for the movie has been completely thrown out, and they’re starting again from scratch with a possibly delayed release date. It should not be hard for DC to make a Batman film!
But we’re not here to discuss bats; we’re here to discuss apes.
So has this one managed to keep the franchise going strong, cap it off for the time being? Or is it a case of third time’s ‘not’ the charm?
Taking place five years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the last stretch of humanity is preparing to take on the apes, who are still being led by Caesar (Andy Serkis). Despite Caesar trying to avoid war with the humans as much as possible, having been forced into a difficult situation by Koba in Dawn, and being haunted by the decision to kill him, he tries his best to avoid conflict as much as possible, and to show that apes are not savages. That all goes to pot however, when the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) initiates a covert operation on their new home, killing several apes, including Caesar’s wife and son, leading Caesar to track the Colonel with a small group of his closest allies in hopes of finding revenge.
War of the Planet of the Apes actually feels rather like a much smaller film compared to the other films in the franchise: On paper, the plot feels simpler, the sets are a lot more enclosed and are not spread over so many locations, and this is the first film in the series not to feature any of San Francisco – in fact it’s not made clear what part of America the film takes place in, as far as I am aware. This however has still been a damn good movie. Despite the fact it feels as though the budget was reduced compared to the other two, they took advantage of everything they were given, and managed to do an excellent job.
I actually commented in the past that I thought these films felt more like zombie movies than they did Planet of the Apes, since they share a common theme of ‘the last of humanity’ and a society collapsed by a viral outbreak. The main difference is that though the apes are a product of this outbreak, they are not a necessary enemy, it’s just that the situation has resolved itself in such a way. This one takes very much after the extreme; it feels like a documentary of humanity’s last days, exacerbated even further by the fact that the ‘Simian Flu’ that broke out at the end of Rise, which caused a great many human deaths in the interim between Rise and Dawn, has now taken on new life, since it now exhibits an additional side effect of reducing human cognitive ability, reducing us to an animalistic existence.
I’m in two minds about this: On the one hand I actually like the fact that these films are further building up to the actual events of the original Planet of the Apes (1968) with the humans being unable to talk and being more animalistic, which is why Charlton Heston’s character was such an anomaly. It does add some additional dimensions to some of the human characters in War, particularly the Colonel, but in a way that I will not spoil for you (it’s not what you’re thinking from my description!).
On the other hand, it’s kind of weird that the flu now carries this side effect, and that it hasn’t been shown in any of the previous films. Now, viruses do mutate, and it could be that over the fifteen year course of its existence it has suddenly mutated this effect, but it is a bit unbelievable. However, for the sake of the narrative, I’m going to give it a slide.
Given that this is the greatest criticism, you realise just how well this film series is doing.
While this may start off as a classic revenge tale like Moby Dick, it evolves into something much more interesting, and far more enjoyable.
Despite the fact that the Colonel is a bit of a military dumbass cliché, he has believable motivations as to why he acts so irrationally. I think audiences may be a bit shocked by the internment camps for apes that humans have set up. These are some of the darkest points that the series has gone to so far.
The Colonel is not the only new character though; Nova (Amiah Miller) is introduced, a girl who cannot speak as a result of the Simian Flu, who Maurice brings along after her guardian is killed. She makes an interesting addition to the cast. She doesn’t really do much until the last portion, but her inclusion in the film is not to its detriment, if anything it’s actually a benefit.
But the real focus of the film, once again, is on Caesar, with very few humans (and no good ones) left, his character arc in War is given full focus, and damn is it good.
You feel his struggle, you feel his pain, you feel his sense of revenge, but at the same time he knows that giving in to his hate would mean he’d be exactly like Koba, and it would prove humanity’s perception of the apes to be true. It is frankly very captivating. And once again, it does a fantastic job of making Caesar the most ‘human’ of all the characters in the film. And it also helps that of the new characters introduced, though some stick out a bit, such as Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape, whose comedic side feels rather out of place in the movie, he is at least rather interesting. The cast however does feel like it fits the entire film, and this whole ‘war documentary’ idea suits them well. The apes feel like actual apes.
It’s very clear that the motion capture side of the cast really took the time and effort to not only learn the necessary sign language, but also to move and sound like the apes they’re depicting, although there’s a lot more speaking this time round, with Andy Serkis getting more lines in this film than in any other in the franchise.
I don’t really want to talk too much about the story, as it’s best to go in without too much knowledge; that’s actually one of the reasons I was quite glad the trailers held back a bit. It’s best to just go in and experience it.
I do think it’s best to watch the other two films shortly before seeing War as they transition into each other very well.
As for the cast, they perform very well, yet again.
Woody Harrelson gives probably his best performance since Hunger Games in this film. They managed to add a lot of dimension to a character that, in the hands of another actor, could have potentially collapsed in on itself.
Steve Zahn, who is a new addition to the cast, gives a decent performance when he’s not being overly comedic, which, as I’ve already mentioned, kind of sticks out.
Amiah Miller gives a brilliant performance considering that she delivers it all without talking, though she does have a brief moment where she uses sign language.
But the standout, once again, is Andy Serkis’ Caesar, which really should be up there with his other great motion caption performances, such a Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit. This performance is actually so good that is somewhat undermines the rest of the cast who are actually giving great performances, in the same way that people didn’t comment on John Lythgoe’s excellent performance in the first Planet of the Apes film.
Now going through aesthetics, before anyone asks me, I did see the film in 3D. The 3D’s alright at times, but once again, some of those scenes are a bit too dark and don’t suit the 3D quite as well. That being said, it’s a lot better than many 3D films I’ve seen recently, and I would recommend seeng it in this format, if indeed you enjoy 3D movies.
If however you’re not that bothered, maybe stick to the 2D version.
What I’m eager to talk about is the motion capture. If you liked it in the first two films, you’ll like it again this time round.
I’m amazed how the technology seems to get better with every one of these films. The makeup in the Burton film may have been really good, but man, do they look like actual apes in this film – in this one you really feel more than ever that you can reach out and touch them. You don’t see them as computer effects anymore. There are none of the motion capture troubles like in the recent Beauty and the Beast (which I reviewed earlier this year, the less said about that crappy movie, the better).
As I said, the motion capture wouldn’t have been as good if the actors hadn’t been able to perform the ape-like actions to a tee, even with the apes become more human as the franchise progresses.
Visually, the sets are phenomenal. These are some brilliantly designed sets, and they use them very well. Because this film is set in a snowy environment, it feels like a cold movie, which really suits the atmosphere that the film goes for. Trust me, if you’ve not been convinced by the Planet of the Apes films, now is the time to get on the bandwagon; this is now a fantastic trilogy.
War of the Planet of the Apes is a brilliant film to cap off the trilogy and is one of the best films I’ve seen this year so far, with some brilliant performances, a well-written story, some brilliant motion capture performances, and a fantastic range of sets and effects.
A trilogy of films that sounds like a bad idea in theory has proven to be an outright success, and I think it will be one hell of a ride for people to rewatch these films as a trilogy when the inevitable three film box set is released.
If you liked the previous films then you’re gonna love this one.
If you didn’t like them, this probably won’t change your mind.
If you haven’t got onto them yet, I urge you to do so.
These are now my favourite Planet of the Apes films to date.
I’m undecided between War and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but to be honest, I don’t want to decide because all three are fantastic films, and I don’t want to have to choose between them.
The series definitely feels like it’s running low on ideas, and it shows when the plot revolves around a long-lost twin brother, which is the lowest point of a continuous series outside of sending the cast into space. Here’s a tip for you, if a franchise resorts to outer space or estranged relatives, then it’s a clear indicator that they’ve lost originality, and it feels that way here. The jokes feel tired and stretched, but I’m glad the minions have had a reduction in screen time, since they can be a bit overbearing if made the focus for too long. They’re simply not given anything interesting to do, and I was kind of weirded out by the idea of minions going to prison, since it sends a rather strange message to kids about life in prison.
I’m not saying it’s a hard film, or even a bad film; it’s just an okay film, but I actually found myself rather bored with it, and frankly I don’t want to see a Despicable Me 4, or a sequel to the Minions film. I know they are a marketing giant, but they have to stop now before it gets worse. Though, considering how much the minions are selling big, I’m very doubtful that’s actually going to be the case.
Baby Driver is another film that could potentially be in my ten best of the year.
It has a phenomenal soundtrack that reminds me of Guardians of the Galaxy but it somehow manages to make the music itself a character.
It’s a very well done heist movie with a brilliant all-star cast, with action scenes timed wonderfully to music through sound effects, signs, kicks and jumps. One of the prime examples of this was in a chase scene involving the song Hocus Pocus by Focus, timed so that guns go off in time with the beat of the song.
The driving scenes are well-choreographed, and there are some very likeable characters in it.
Baby Driver is incredibly well-written and directed. This is honestly one I would say you really need to check out. It’s a fantastic film, and like War for the Planet of the Apes, it is very likely to be in my ten best films of the year
If it is playing in a cinema in your area, for the love of God, check this film out.
I first saw this at the Flat Pack Film Festival in Birmingham last year, and let me tell you something, if this had come out last year like intended, it would have been not only in my top ten, by my top three films of last year. It’s another anime film that’s up there with When Marnie Was There, and Your Name, both of which I have previously reviewed.
The film is directed by Momoru Hosoda, who directed other classic films like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, and one of my all-time favourite films, Wolf Children. The Boy and the Beast may not live up to Wolf Children, but it’s a very strong contender, because it is another phenomenal movie. It deals with subjects like adoptive families, fathers and sons, nature vs nurture and the feeling of abandonment, and passing on one’s legacy.
Hosoda conveys this through the plot of a beast man taking a homeless boy into the world of the beasts, training him in martial arts to continue his legacy, becoming a truly heartfelt story.
Well, that’s that for another week!
Considering that in the space of a week, I’ve seen three films that could go in my top ten of the year, I’m in a good mood. I’m hoping I can keep it up for next week, when I’ll be giving my thoughts on Christopher Nolan’s retelling of one of the most famous battles of the Second World War, in his film Dunkirk. In addition I will also be giving a mini-review of Cars 3, because I hate myself, and this job forces me to see sequels to films that I don’t like.
With that being said, thank you for reading this review, and I hope you did so as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Calvin – Nerd Consultant
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