The resurgence of Planet of the Apes has been a pleasing one. Rise of the Planet of the Apes gave a competent and stable foundation to the new series. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes heightened tensions among apes and between them and humans. Dawn made for one of my favorite films of 2014. War of the Planet of the Apes is a culmination from both movies and a state of decline for mankind. As to which film is the best, I will need some time to ruminate. War and Dawn are both superb movies that accomplish the goals they strive to achieve. What I can discern is that this is one hell of a trilogy and the finale does stack-up to the other entries.
The best element of War is how ballsy it really is. Our main characters don’t feel safe and they’re facing an opposing force that does crush them. It is a relentless movie and one of the darker PG-13 films I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s nice actually having to care for our protagonist because this isn’t a happy movie. Humans are the enemy and there’s plenty of tension within the apes to make the herd mentality not always a level mindset. The best moments in War aren’t the loud and brash ones, but the reflective and intimate ones.
These moments are fleshed out by someone who excels behind directing. Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) brings out emotion, uncertainty, escalation, and resolve all at the necessary moments. Reeves behind the camera makes most of War of the Planet of the Apes a captivating story to watch. Beautiful set-scapes, some great shots, and smart use of music all contribute to making each scene a meaningful one. This movie brought me the closest to crying all year, it didn’t quite hit the mark, but Reeves does a great job of characterizing his leads and the world they encompass.
Andy Serkis does another great job of playing Caesar and the rest of the cast does a fine job as well. Woody Harrelson does a fine job as a villain. His character serves a purpose and has two solid moments, one of which has great conviction. I’m not sure if I’m completely sold on him, but he was a good enough villain. Nothing quite reaches the heights of what Koba was in Dawn, but the plot is great and comes together rather well. It only helps that Caesar and Co. look incredible.
What isn’t incredible are the newer additions to the cast. Bad Ape, in particular, mostly serves as a convenient plot device and comic relief. I didn’t mind this at first, but I could barely take him seriously by the end of the movie, though he has a great introduction. A human girl named Nova serves a better purpose but was somewhat under-utilized. Harrelson’s scheme as the villain is also one I’m not 100% sure about. Discussing it more gets into spoilers but I’ll say that it’s a common cliché among villains, but his final scene in the movie is great so nothing here is a complete loss.
War for the Planet of the Apes gives us a great end to a smart and strong trilogy of films. Where I flip flop between this and Dawn being my favorite, it is a must see for fans or just those looking for a good film. I’d greatly prefer this to be the end of the story for these Apes as it wraps up well, but there’s always room for something else. With Matt Reeves being the new brains behind the upcoming Batman film, I couldn’t imagine a better choice to helm that film.