Courtesy of Fox
When “Rise of the Planet of The Apes” first made it’s debut on the reboot market back in 2011, I’m thoroughly convinced that nobody thought anything of it. This was when reboots started becoming the stylized normalcy and Fox saw the potential and went running. The primo de-facto realization came to be that the “Apes” series had some gas left in the tank. And that’s mainly due to one person, his name is Andy Serkis. That’s a name that folks have heard quite a bit, as the campaign wages on for him to get a Best Actor nomination for delivering the best motion capture work of the decade. He proved how vital this kind of technology was in 2010 and only improved further as the series progressed. With the latest adaptation “War for the Planet of the Apes” the actor may have just outdone himself.
Thanks to the visionary performance by Serkis, and his climb to the top of the food chain, Caesar is now a legendary figure among his primate clan. The film is set distant in the future where a plague has all but wiped off the human race. The Simian flu is the technical term, and apes are trying to leave peacefully after the events in it’s predecessor “Dawn” became the stepping stone for an all out war against nature's most primitive species. In the bracing opener, director Matt Reeves decides to put us in the middle of the action, with a good ole-fashion sneak attack on the apes home turf. An infantry unit made up of the military's best strikes first blood and takes a jab against their biggest foe. Under the orders of one insane, abiet, unorthodox Colonel (Woody Harrelson) the threat against the apes has never been more greater. This forces Caesar into a dark corner, after a tragedy leaves him with all but nothing - the thirst for revenge becomes increasingly potent. He sends his primate clan on the run, while he stays back and hunts for blood, before the cooky antagonist of our story can get his paws on them. And him, along with a few of his most trusted ape comrades, flee to end the war. Their findings bring them in contact with a young girl, whom is believed to be a victim of the outbreak as she can’t speak in full sentences - instead, she must learn sign language like most of the apes can already do.
But all the ambition Caesar has falls by the wayside once the Colonel’s men catch up with the aps in a stormy showdown that takes this dark premise into even grimmer territory. Most of, if not all of this, is typical hero stuff with enough grit to make us feel for the motion capture primates. Which settles into a gripping third act once the bulk of the apes wind up enslaved by the vicious Colonel, leaving Caesar and a small squad to plot their quest to freedom.
Eventually captured himself, he’s basically left with the will to survive from his indentured apes. The encroaching desperation of Caesar’s ordel unfolds against an icy canvas that has very expressive qualities. The final scenes are all but reminiscent of “The Great Escape” complete with a fixture of musical scores that takes a page or two from that playbook. But the apes and their perseverance for freedom freshens up the formula greatly. Even if the “human” element of “War” suffers from that.
Harrelson turns in a fine performance, yet his character is vastly underwritten. He walks around with this smuck of how much of a bad guy he is, but is unafraid to throw away seven minutes of a backstory when the scene demands it. The only other human character - with a purpose - is a young girl I mentioned earlier, who eventually becomes a member of the ape squad. It’s not all that surprising that humans got the short end of the leash, as the movie’s main focus is the ape dominance, and those are just some minor narrative sacrifices we need to make. It’s also worth mentioning that Steve Zahn turns up in a fun role called “Bad Ape” whom is essentially the comedic playing card in an otherwise dark film.
Finally, “War” brings this rebooted trilogy to an astounding close, with a clear sense of finality of where future installments could head (and this series could keep moving). Perhaps we have caught lightning in a bottle with three worthy films in the “Ape” canon, and all of that belongs to the evolution of Serkis’s character arch. Whichever the case, if this series wants to keep going, I’d be a big supporter, and if it wants to stay put and go out with a bang, than “War” can be one of greatest trilogy cappers in recent memory. B+