If you’ve ever doubted viewing one of these films – as this reviewer has, this could be your introduction to one of the most thought-provoking ‘man verses beast’ films of present-day cinema. Through the magic of digital technology, War For The Planet Of The Apes manages to transport you from ‘human to ape’ then makes you question our species’ impact on nature around us. All of this comes to brew in a rocky microcosm of human suffering. It’s that powerful that is makes you think long afterward viewing. Throughout, you are too busy willing the apes to survive and save the planet.
Having followed Caesar’s journey from his intelligent ape origins, in the third chapter, he (Andy Serkis returning) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson). After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.
Believe the hype: Serkis is superb in this, leaving no emotion unexplored, and becoming more ‘civilised’ and messiah-like than any human could hope to be. You are completely won over to his side, his morality and view on the world, along with his ‘apes in arms’ (Karin Konoval as Maurice, Terry Notary as Rocket and Michael Adamthwaite as Luca).
The most powerful scenes are Serkis’s Caesar verses Harrelson’s Colonel. Initially, both feel as though they are playing to stereotype, but both character arcs are way more subtle, surprising and ultimately satisfying than that, as both have darker and lighter shades to their nature, which the film always pauses to reflect on. These muted moments, however, are never to the detriment of the film’s urgency and pace. They merely add greater value.
There are also some wonderful companionship and group-bonding moments among apes – and ‘token’ primate, a young mute girl called Nova (Amiah Miller) who is there for ‘cute’ value and to shine a light on the apes’ sensitive nature. In scenes that resemble The Great Escape and Schindler’s List, the apes are resourceful, considerate and in destructible in what is thrown at them. It is all-engrossing. Director Matt Reeves and team never forget to lighten the emotional load, with a charmingly funny turn by Steve Zahn as the comedic Bad Ape, the character that actually makes the greatest progression in hindsight.
As for big-screen effects, some of the jungle scenes are spectacular, especially when Caesar firsts encounters the Colonel at the waterfall. Details that could have been lost in the dim tones are all present and alive, feral, even down to the emotions in the eyes between man and beast. This is a production that does not squander its budget, making use of every effect, production design and vista.
War For The Planet Of The Apes concludes in the only way possible, squeezing out one last emotional response from the viewer. As Hollywood endings go, it’s as expected, almost clichéd. However, the full impact of what you have just watched hits you like a tidal wave soon after. It’s the unexpected that renders War For The Planet Of The Apes one of the most powerful post-viewing experiences in a long time.