War for the Planet of the Apes (aka Planet of the Apes 3) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
There was a time when a Planet of the Apes sequel came with a groan at the depreciating quality of story and ape costumes. Now there’s excitement and intrigue for a story where apes take over our planet. Take a moment to appreciate the craftsmanship of a Planet of the Apes movie that is not only one of the best genre pictures of 2017, but one of the best pictures period.
While Rise of the Planet of the Apes showcased flawed humans that led to sentient apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was an even mix of struggling humans and apes, War for the Planet of the Apes is almost entirely a story of the apes. Their leader, Caesar (Andy Serkis), has been trying to keep his kind safe in the woods, but the humans continue to advance on their territory. Caesar leads with strength, but also mercy. His legions slaughter a horde of invading soldiers but spare a few that can be sent back as a message to leave in peace. After all, Caesar doesn’t want to relive the misguided wrath of the vengeful ape Koba, whose spirit still haunts him as the evilness he could easily succumb.
The military threat at hand this time is more crazed than emotional. Whereas the previous film’s use of Gary Oldman was a man who wanted revenge, Woody Harrelson’s character is a mad colonel. True, he has lost loved ones, but he is long past that point of seeking retribution. He wants loyalty among his troops and torture among his enemies, basking in the dark glow of brutality and total control. His tactics are more elaborate. He has rounded up apes into camps, to be used as slaves for building new installations. The few that renounce Caesar are dubbed donkeys and given jobs of accompanying and aiding soldiers in battle.
When the military forces come too close for comfort, Caesar sends the apes on their way while he pursues the angry colonel on his own. Aiding him are a few allies, his most notable being the wise orangutan Maurice. His kindness prevents Caesar from leaving the quiet human girl Nova to die in the woods. They will later run across the ape deserter referring to himself only as Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), telling them the military camp is too dangerous a place to be. But when Caesar discovers his collective is being held captive there, he has no choice but to infiltrate and make his mission more than just a personal vendetta.
There’s an excellent evolvement of the Apes film seen in this film trilogy. The special effects have become so seamless that it’s not the least bit surreal to watch a movie where the majority of shots feature CGI apes, most of which speak in sign language. Everything from the levels of distraught on Caesar’s face to the somber gaze of Maurice carries a weight that no other composited animated character has ever displayed in a live-action production. I liked how Bad Ape was able to become the comic relief among the apes without turning into a cartoon character. I appreciated how Harrelson’s character didn’t pull back on the madness, presenting a villain more dastardly for the apes to best. I was intrigued by how the virus that wiped out most of the humans takes an astonishing turn, signaling that this is indeed the final hours of the humans controlling the planet. It’s bold storytelling I only thought was possible in the pulpiest of science fiction novels.
War for the Planet of the Apes is more than just a fitting conclusion to this new Apes trilogy; it’s a masterpiece of special effects, animated acting, speculative fiction and emotional action. For a big blockbuster with explosions and computer animation, it’s surprisingly subtle with its direction where engaging scenes can involve little to no dialogue. Matt Reeves has taken the flawed Apes franchise and launched into a trilogy that I doubt anyone thought could be possible. Where everyone else only saw the goofy makeup and overacting of Charlton Heston, he saw a real story to tell, one that would make us give a damn about apes taking over the planet. He succeeded with flying colors.