War for the Planet of the Apes

It’s been two years since the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, with the apes and the humans still unable to find any kind of lasting peace. The ominously named ‘The Colonel’ (Woody Harrelson) manages to make things even worse when he attempts to take out Caesar (Andy Serkis) the apes’ leader. Overtaken by anger and a desire for revenge, Caesar distances himself from his people to go his own way. General monkeying business ensues.

The Planet of the Apes franchise looked dead in the water after Tim Burton’s mess in 2001, complete with Marky Mark and Helena Bonham-Carter (who else?) in a monkey suit. However, in 2011 something strange happened, something nearly as unlikely as apes becoming super intelligent and taking over the world. Despite a run of trailers that made it look like utter garbage, director Rupert Wyatt did a brilliant job of rebooting the Apes franchise in 2011, which was then followed up by the utterly superb Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014 courtesy of Matt Reeves. The success of the recent reboot is in no small part thanks to the work of Andy ‘King of Motion Capture’ Serkis as Caesar, who has helped create a character that is genuinely more compelling than most human characters. To put my love of the recent Apes movies into context, I think that to date it is one of the most consistent franchises and I’ve been crossing my fingers that War of… can stick the landing and round out a truly great series of movies.

I think the first thing I have to cover is that the motion capture, and not just from Andy Serkis, is staggering. When the first film came out the technology looked impressive but now 6 years down the line it looks nearly indistinguishable from real-life, or at least what I imagine bi-pedal talking apes might look like in reality. However, it would be unfair not to focus in specifically on Andy Serkis who in Caesar has created a truly brilliant layered character with more depth than the large majority of traditional characters we might see. That said, I think that my favourite ape in the movies is definitely Maurice, Caesar’s orangutan buddy. It’s a sure sign that the filmmakers are doing something right when I actually spend three whole films rooting for the apes and the extinction of mankind. T

Going into the film I was expecting a very specific third act to the trilogy; I was expecting an all out war film, and the title of the movie did very little to alter that expectation. What you actually get is something a lot smaller and more intimate than the I expected and than the title suggests. This is a much more personal film than I expected, but I suppose that we got a lot of action and quite close to all out war in Dawn. Instead War of… focuses itself firmly on the war for Caesar’s soul, will he succumb to his aggressive desire for revenge, or will he be able to rise above all of that and prove the apes as the worthy successors to mankind as the dominant species on the planet?

Woody Harrelson as The Colonel is good, you can’t really beat Woody Harrelson doing slightly deranged, the comparisons to the Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now are unavoidable (and seemingly intentional). He’s a military leader with an almost cult like status amongst his men but he isn’t an entirely one note villain. There are some interesting ideas behind his character that help to raise this above a by the numbers evil for the sake of it villain. I think if anything he is the weakest point of the film because there are occasions when he devolves into quite a generic baddy but for the most part he keeps things on the right side of cliche. The interactions between The Colonel and Caesar absolutely validate Harrelson’s performance.

War for the Planet of the Apes is very different to what I had expected, I was imaging that I would see the final battle between apes and men, but instead it’s a far more focused and personal movie. I think there is certainly scope for the franchise to continue in the future, things were left open, but in reality I think it’s a really good place to bow out. The recent Apes trilogy has managed to stick the landing and deliver a truly memorable series of films.

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