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There’s something about the number three. Something just feels right about it. And, in any story telling medium we see it a lot. The three act structure, the main character and their two friends, the three chances to succeed or fail and, of course, the trilogy. It all sounds nice and structured. But there is a huge problem with trilogies. The third entry is rarely considered to be the best. Yes, we have The Return of the King, The Last Crusade and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; but even these are debatable. Plus for each good third film there are more on the levels of The Godfather Part 3, Jurassic Park 3 and Spider-Man 3.
Despite this sad fact of film, War for the Planet of the Apes look special. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a great, thinking-man’s blockbuster. The sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a huge improvement on it; a monumentally spectacular sci-fi masterpiece. The same cast and crew returned for one more outing. How could things go wrong with all of them behind it?
After Caesar killed evil ape Koba in the last film, the war for the planet began. Caesar and his kind are tired of the horrors of war and wish to see an end to it. Unfortunately, peace is impossible, thanks to a human coronal who wishes to kill all apes to save what is left of the human race. It soon becomes apparent to Caesar that there is only one way to end this war. But the means may not be worth it. And, as more and more happens to the apes, Caesar finds himself asking the impossible question. Is this the only way? Or has Caesar become the very thing he had been fighting this whole time?
From the get go I was pleased by this film. I was pleased to see that everything that I had loved about its two predecessors was still delivered here. Matt Reeves, who directed Dawn, gives us an amazing and raw emotional experience. All with computer chimps and other apes. The best parts of all these films are the scenes with the apes, while the human scenes tend to be a little weaker. That is not a problem in this film, because I think there was only three scenes in this whole film dedicated solely on the humans. This is a very ape-centric film and it is all the better for it. The effects on these apes are every bit as great as they were in Dawn. Maybe even better! I have no problems believing that they are real. And Reeves treats these characters with restraint and respect. There are plenty of scenes that are just visual storytelling; we learn from the characters emotions what is being said. This is hard to do at the best of times, but coupling that with the fact that these are animals. Animals made in a computer no less. Not once did I feel unmoved by them. That’s how great this film is.
I cannot applaud writer/director Matt Reeves enough, but it isn’t just him that deserves the credit. Andy Serkis gives yet another performance worthy of an Oscar he’s probably not going to get nominated for. He is Caesar! He plays this character so perfectly that I internally cheer every time I see him. This film is Caesar’s darkest moment, and Serkis effortlessly captures every ounce of this darkness while never breaking the character. We also have every ape actor returning to play the apes they have brought to life before. Not a single actor lets us down, new and old. We have our villain played by Woody Harrelson. His character is hardly in the film really. He’s very much a presence villain; he nearly dominates his on-screen moments, and you can feel his power every other moment. The character himself has some good development, and while clearly the villain he does make some good points. What would you do if humanity was dying out?
Someone who I feel I should mention is Bad Ape, played by Steve Zahn. This is a small chimp who is not from Caesar’s clan. He wears human cloths, does not talk in sign-language and what English he does speak is very broken. He is the comic relief of the film. Considering that this is a dark film, it is refreshing to have the odd moment of comedy. But this has backfired more times than can be counted in film, often with said character becoming really irritating (such as Jar-Jar Binks). Making Bad Apes was a risk, is what I’m trying to say. A risk that most certainly payed off! Bad Ape was never unwelcome; he was well handled, perfectly performed and very funny. He worked well with the little girl in the film. And that actress did exceedingly well in a film where she was talking to computer generated apes; who in real life were just people in tights and green-dots. I don’t know where we are finding these child-actors these days, but many child actors this year have proven themselves in challenging roles. This little girl is no different in this film.
I tried and could not find anything wrong with War for the Planet of the Apes. It’s a dark tale that concludes an exceptional trilogy.
Any criticisms I have is barely even a nit-pick. But something that I do feel like mentioning is that, despite being called War for the Planet of the Apes, there isn’t much waring going on. As in, there isn’t much in the way of battles. There’s one in the opening and one at the climax. But the rest, while not action-less, is a very talkie or visually story-telling. It’s more political and dramatical than action packed and fantastical. In that, it is probably paced more like Rise than it is Dawn (Dawn blending action and drama perfectly). That doesn’t make it any less than the other two, but it is something to mention in case you go in expecting an action movie with apes.
In the end War for the Planet of the Apes is an almost perfect film and a great conclusion to an exceptional trilogy.
I don’t know which is my favourite of this series, as Dawn was a little more fun; but this one is possibly the best one. The best story, acting and direction. If they make no more, then it will be fine with me. If thing’s have ended this well then we shouldn’t make more. Go and see it. Even if you don’t like sci-fi. A prequel trilogy better than the originals? I guess that means Apes together, strong!