Updated: Jan 20, 2019
In recent memory, the concept of a prequel trilogy has always been met with a sense of both controversy and worry, due to the massively disappointing Star Wars prequel trilogy concocted by director George Lucas. However, since its very first film Rise of Planet of the Apes back in 2011 to its 2014 sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the ambitious prequel trilogy to the classic franchise has proved to be a series not only worthy of its brand name but also proved that it is superior to its original source material.
As a result, back in 2017, when War of the Planet of the Apes was released into theaters for a hungrily excited audience to enjoy, my levels of both skepticism and standards were rather low. However, despite the issues that may have plagued earlier entries in the franchise, War for the Planet of the Apes is a masterful, technical masterpiece that boasts some of the most impressive uses of motion capture in history and displays a terrific, resonant screenplay brought to life by the incredible Andy Serkis.
As always, the most important part of any film is its screenplay. Without this aspect, the film fails on both a technical and creative standpoint and will most likely to lead to poor critical and audience reception. Fortunately, Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes completely diverts this expectation with a stirring and resonant screenplay that blends hardened emotion with tense sequences of pure dialogue. For any film, especially a summer blockbuster competing against films like Spider-Man: Homecoming, it is both a bold and rare achievement to have some of the most impressive moments be entirely centered around dialogue. Unlike most summer blockbuster directors, Reeves smartly avoids the trend of placing dense action sequences over proper storytelling. There aren’t many action sequences in the film, and the ones that are discoverable prove to be both realistic and grounded. They never fully reach the over-the-top tone that other films constantly reach on a regular basis.
As many writers will note, the methods of storytelling are futile if the actual story is weak and insufficient. Thankfully, Reeves once again avoids this daring obstacle. The story and plot of War for the Planet of the Apes is thematic, emotional, and awe-inspiring. Using both a battered and compelling character in Andy Serkis’s excellent portrayal of Caesar, Reeves expertly navigates the audience through multiple morally obstructive dilemmas that the roster of characters face. After over 6 years spent with Caesar and company, this final hurrah for the character is stirring and deeply emotional. Every sequence is daring and never feels conventional. There was never a scene that I found overly predictable or abashedly repetitive. It completely diverts the expectations that the audience sets up for it, in doing so, it creates an experience that is riveting and original.
As mentioned before, Serkis and his fellow colleagues do excellent work portraying real characters with depth and emotion. Serkis refines his portray of Caesar to come off as relatable and deeply empathetic, creating a performance that rivals as one of the best in his entire career. Never before has such a wide range of emotions been displayed by Serkis. It’s certainly an impressive display of performance and an utter shame it was ignored by the Academy for the 2018 Oscars.
As for his colleagues, none of them never leave as big of an impact as Serkis, but none are annoying in their design and execution. For example, Steve Zahn as Bad Ape was initially jarring at first, especially considering how his humor is disjointed compared to the dark, grim tone of the film. But as the film progressed and the story developed, he quickly became more tolerable and even likable at times. Characters like Bad Ape are sprinkled throughout the entire film, all of them giving exceptional performances that don’t really move past their standard supporting roles. However, Woody Harrelson as the Colonel proves to create a performance as stirring as Serkis’s. Some of the aspects of his character aren’t as developed as I would have hoped, but the performance itself does a lot to make the character one of the most developed in the entire film, outside of Caesar. His character never comes off as perpetual or repetitive, in fact the exact opposite can be said for him.
As a whole, 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes is a masterclass of filmmaking from director Matt Reeves and his fellow cast. Together and an astounding crew of technical professionals creating visual effects that rival as one of the best in history, they fashion a story that is both riveting and emotional, stirring and dark, smart and brutal. These are adjectives that can’t really be attached to any other recent summer blockbuster, an impressive feat considering the quality of some recent works like The Third Murder for instance. Ultimately…War for the Planet of the Apes creates a complex narrative web, a web that fortunately it does not find itself tangled in.
Score: 9.2 out of 10