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Three Views: War for the Planet of the Apes

July 24, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes Review By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

One of the greatest moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had was going to a press screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes back in 2011 not really knowing what to expect from the franchise reboot, and realizing early on in the film that I was witnessing something special.  The trend continued with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014, taking the series in even deeper and darker directions, confirming that these films had something to say.

Now we have War for the Planet of the Apes, which cements this as one of the greatest film trilogies of all time.  Directed by Matt Reeves, this is an example of blockbuster filmmaking at its darkest and most thrilling, closing this new chapter of the classic series on a harrowing and emotionally resonant note.  It’s stunning, a big movie that provokes deep thought and resonates with feeling.

The film is set two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, with the virus that gave heightened intelligence to the apes having all but wiped out humanity, save for a few survivors.  We open with soldiers tracking and ambushing the apes in their forest home, where they live under the leadership of Caesar (Andy Serkis), reigniting the conflict between species and forcing them to flee.  When his family is killed by a militant named only The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), Caesar sets out to track him down with a group of other apes, spurred by the drive for revenge that he has largely tried to avoid.  They are joined on their journey by a mute girl named Nova (Amiah Miller), and discover a prison camp where the apes are forced to do manual labour for the humans.

The film plays with the grandeur of a biblical epic, yet it tells a story that feels as stripped down to the basics as a classic Western, exploring deep and fundamental themes of suffering and sacrifice.  Like an old John Wayne or Clint Eastwood character, Caesar is struggling to finally bring his people to the promised land, grizzled by the journey and forced to come to terms with the choices he has made along the way.  The war of the title is as much of an internal struggle as it is a physical one, with Caesar trying to grapple with the decisions he made at the end of the last film, including taking the life of fellow ape Koba (Toby Kebbell), who continues to haunt him in nightmares.

The story is rich with allegories and philosophical undertones about the way we treat our fellow living creatures, and how these interactions can quickly become overpowered by vengeance, especially when battling for superiority and dwindling resources.  It’s been fascinating to watch the apes grow more human as these films have progressed, with the roles of oppressor and oppressed switching over the course of the series.  Now the apes vastly outnumber the humans, but interspecies rivalries have only gotten more extreme, with the remaining people trying to militantly save themselves and reclaim their control of the planet, leaving the apes forced to fight in order to merely survive.

As the title suggests, War for the Planet of the Apes is very much a war movie, but it’s as concerned with exploring the devastating effects of conflict as it is with the actual fighting.  The film takes its cues from classics that explored the tragedy of the Vietnam War, with the tone of the piece being largely influenced by Platoon and Apocalypse Now.  The words “Ape-Pocalypse Now” are even seen scrawled on a cave wall.  The story also recalls The Great Escape in that much of it takes place at the prison labour camp, providing a fascinatingly contained setting.  The last act is stunning, including a breathtaking slow motion sequence that provides some of the most gripping moments we are bound to see all year.

Michael Giacchino’s score provides an excellent accompaniment to the action, with large sections of the film playing without traditional dialogue as subtitles translate the sign language conversations between the characters.  Michael Serasin’s beautiful widescreen cinematography is filled with haunting and moody visuals, and the special effects are so seamlessly done that we forget we are watching computer generated characters.  Andy Serkis delivers another mesmerizing performance in the leading role, with an incredible sense of empathy and feeling coming through from behind the motion capture makeup.

Woody Harrelson does brilliant work, playing a deeply troubled character who is filled with existential dread, and provides a fascinating mirror to Caesar’s arc.  The cast is rounded out by Steve Zahn’s scene-stealing performance as a chimpanzee known simply as Bad Ape, who joins Caesar and the other apes on their journey, providing an endearing new addition to the cast who brings both a sense of humour and pathos to the film.  Raised in a zoo outside of Caesar’s colony, Bad Ape is an interesting character in how he has come to evolve on his own to appear more human-like.  He speaks in English, walks on two legs, and even dons a blue vest that recalls the ones worn by the simians in the original film.

Like Logan earlier this year, another great blockbuster which shares some striking similarities to this film in the way that it provided an emotional sendoff to a complex and beloved hero, War for the Planet of the Apes provides a harrowing and incredibly moving end to Caesar’s journey.  This is a summer blockbuster of the highest order, a thrilling big screen experience that is unafraid of exploring uncompromisingly bleak themes, using compelling characters as the backbone for its action.

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Caesar (Andy Serkis) in War for the Planet of the Apes

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War for the Planet of the Apes Review By Erin Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

The reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise is one of the greatest film trilogies in recent years.  I remember going into Rise of the Planet of the Apes back in 2011 not knowing what to expect and being blown away by the way they told the first part of this prequel trilogy.  In 2014, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continued in a strong direction showing us for the first time, the hints of the war that was to come.  Now, War for the Planet of the Apes is here and it delivers a powerful and emotional punch, with excellent performances all around and a well-thought out tale of what drives us to war, fighting, and survival.

At the start of War for the Planet of the Apes it has been 2 years since the events of the previous film, when the war began.  Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his family of apes have been in hiding, trying to avoid contact with humans, vowing to only fight to protect themselves.  But the humans nearby, now led by The Colonel played by Woody Harrelson, are hunting them with extreme prejudice, leading the apes to decide to try to relocate across the country, away from the humans.

However, when The Colonel finds their encampment and kills several apes close to Caesar, things take a far more personal turn.  Sending the rest of the apes off to relocate on their own, Caesar vows to take revenge and sets out to find The Colonel who did this to them.  Joined by three other apes, Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary), and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), they start tracking towards the military base where the humans have been hiding.  Along the way they are joined by a mysteriously mute human girl (Amiah Miller) and an escaped zoo ape who calls himself Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) after the ‘name’ the humans had given him at the zoo.

Interestingly enough, the film is not an all-out battle-driven war piece.  A lot of it is quiet and very much gets into the wrestling Caesar in particular has with his drive for revenge, fearing he has become more similar to Koba, (the antagonist ape from the previous film), than he would like.  There are also now apes working as ‘donkeys’ for the humans, choosing to take a ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ mentality, and fearing Caesar would reject them because of their previous allegiance to Koba.  Things soon end up at the human base and an ape prisoner of war camp, where the rest of the film plays out with homages to The Great Escape.  While much of the film has a dark and bleak tone, there are a few moments of comic relief courtesy of Bad Ape.

Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson give powerhouse performances here, with several scenes between their two characters so filled with nuance and complicated character motivations.  It would not be a shocker to see either of them recognized for their work come awards season.  The special effects of course are amazing and awards-worthy as well, so much so that when watching the film you don’t think of the apes as computer generated/mo-capped.

Overall, War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the top films of the year, and deserves the critical and audience reception it has received.  A film about a war where no one fully wins, with tragic losses on both sides as every war has, it is a powerhouse of modern cinema.

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Maurice (Karin Konoval), Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Caesar (Andy Serkis) in War for the Planet of the Apes

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War for the Planet of the Apes Review By Tony Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

First of all, those who missed the first two films in this reboot Planet of the Apes trilogy need not worry. There is a brief summary of the first film in which a serum for treating human dementia had left apes much more intelligent, including the chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis), who led a large group of them into a forest home north of San Francisco. The opening sequence of the second film follows, in which a simian virus spread around the earth wiping out most of the human population shows arrows linking the points of infection followed by lights winking out everywhere as seen from space. War for the Planet of the Apes begins two years after the second film in which a battle between human survivors in the ruins of San Francisco resulted in a truce with the apes once again left alone in their forest home.

A surprise attack on Caesar’s family impels Caesar and some trusted companions, including the wise orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) and gorilla Rocket (Terry Notary) from the two previous films, to go seek out and take revenge on the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) of a rogue human force. Along the way they are joined by Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a chimp who had escaped from a zoo up north, and a little girl they call Nova (Amiah Miller) affected by a mutant strain of the simian virus leaving humans not only bloody-nosed but mute. When they reach the Colonel’s camp they find their colony imprisoned and forced to labour for his human forces, aided by turncoat gorillas literally labelled as donkeys. Another major battle is inevitable before Caesar can lead his troop to the Promised Land.

Once again co-written and directed by Matt Reeves and filmed mainly in the forests of Canada with much of the photorealistic CGI ape rendering by WETA in New Zealand, War for the Planet of the Apes is just as good as the other two films in the series. Top-billed Andy Serkis is as brilliant as ever, supported by an excellent cast, particularly Woody Harrelson in an intense role deliberately reminiscent of Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, and Steve Zahn whose Bad Ape is both comical and poignant at the same time. The interesting twists as Caesar struggles with his need to set things right amid scenes of brutality and serious combat, all under the fine Michael Giacchino score, make it a fitting close to the trilogy, with promise of another generation to come.

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Consensus: Providing a dark and powerful viewing experience, War for the Planet of the Apes closes this new chapter of the series on a thrilling and impressively made high note, capping off one of the greatest film trilogies of all time. ★★★½ (out of 4)

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 24, 2017 3:50 pm

    Great post! War for the planet of the Apes is definintely one of my favorite movies of the year so far. It’s amazing how much emotion CGI apes can show lol


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