“… I’m being completely serious when I say this is the best movie I’ve seen all year.”
Once again I assumed that the last Planet of the Apes was as good as this franchise could get, and once again I was wrong. War for the Planet of the Apes picks up five years after Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and the Apes are now fighting the military that was called in at that time. This military group is led by a colonel who hates apes more than anyone else on the planet. There are fights and shit, but things get personal when the Colonel attacks Caesar’s home and kills some of his men. Caesar, with a few select allies, takes this fight directly to the Colonel in an act of revenge.
Just to get this out of the way, this review is going to have so many spoilers for War for the Planet of the Apes. There is not much I would be able to say without spoiling the film, so I figured I would just go all in with my opinions. If you are wondering if you should see this movie, absolutely do it. It is magnificent.
War for the Planet of the Apes starts up and instantly I knew that this was going to be a different movie. The other two Apes movies had darker tones present in the film, but I wouldn’t necessarily call those films dramas. Despite those dark tones being present, there was always something lighter to entertain you; all of that entertainment is lost in War for the Planet of the Apes. As soon as War for the Planet of the Apes starts, you can be sure that you are not going to have any fun for the next two and a half hours. This movie consistently rips your heart out and holds it in front of your face. War for the Planet of the Apes, as the title suggests, has a war in it; but the focus of this war isn’t the fighting. No, the focus of this war is just how shitty war actually is. It’s fucking disgusting and unnecessary, but taking a pacifistic approach isn’t going to help anybody because then more of your men will just die. We see Apes who have abandoned Caesar to the point that they are fighting for the humans, taking all of the abuse that gets thrown at them from their “allies”. We see guerrilla war tactics that leave groups of people in shambles, and most importantly we get to see what POW labor camps look like in this universe. Like I said, this movie takes your heart out and holds it in front of your face. The only light in this darkness is a newly introduced character known only as “Bad Ape”. Bad Ape is an ape who only speaks english, and is the comic relief for the film. Not only do I think that this character is fucking hilarious (seriously, all of his jokes landed), but I also respect why he was there. Without that sense of comedy sowing up at times, this movie would have to come with a “suicide watch” warning. Bad Ape not only provides the film’s comedy, but what I like so much about this character is that he still fits into the story. Everyone in this movie is a sad sack of shit (I mean that in the best way possible), so having a character who is all sunshine and rainbows would be out of place. Luckily the way Bad Ape was handled made sure that we knew that this character, despite being the film’s comic relief, has a lot of darkness following him as well. Bad Ape was introduced by him essentially pleading Caesar and his men to not leave him alone; he finally met some new friends and he wants to do everything in his power to make sure that they stay safe and never leave him again. We also get to see glimpses of his really sad past, either with him talking about how all of the apes at the zoo he was from were killed, or how his son is no longer with him. These moments not only make sure this character stays “grounded’ in this universe, but they also make you care about him. So now not only is he cute and funny, but he is a tragic character who you just want to hug.
God, this movie was so fucking good it’s actually making me sad that I won’t be able to do it justice with my mediocre writing. Anyway, let’s power-through and talk about specific things I really liked; the first being the film’s directing. War for the Planet of the Apes had a lot of interesting directing choices, but how I’m going to define them isn’t going to sound like a compliment. What I liked so much about War for the Planet of the Apes is that the film very rarely had a clean frame. By this I mean, the shots in the movie almost always had something directly in the foreground blocking part of the frame, or something in the background that looked out of place. Now like I said, this won’t sound like a compliment on the surface, but I absolutely loved this decision. While others might find these occurrences amateur, I found them immersive; they made this world feel even more alive. I think this was an important move because the subject of the film is not one that we can easily relate to, so any little bit of immersion helps. These moments made it feel less like I was watching a movie, and more like I was watching these events actually happen. I also thought that the soundtrack in War for the Planet of the Apes was amazing as well. In my review for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I mentioned that I liked the soundtrack because it was able to implement a lot of older techniques which made it reminiscent of older films (not unlike the original Planet of the Apes). War for the Planet of the Apes keeps this style, but also tones it down a bit in favour of some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. Seriously, the soundtrack of War for the Planet of the Apes is definitely one that I’m going to be downloading and listening to on repeat, because not only was it so fitting to the film but it was just really good in general.
Of course I couldn’t finish this review without talking about the CGI and believe me when I say that War for the Planet of the Apes had the best CGI I have ever seen, hands down. I mentioned that this movie is able to rip your heart out, but that fact becomes doubly impressive when you take into account that most of the time you are watching CGI apes instead of humans. The amount of emotion and realism that is shown on the faces of the apes, especially Caesar himself, is absolutely stunning to me. There were many times in the theatre where I was absolutely speechless (not that I usually talk during movies) at how detailed and realistic these faces were. It is absolutely astounding, and if it doesn’t win an Oscar for visual effects I will eat my hat (well maybe not my hat, but I will be very upset). And finally I have to talk about the performances in War for the Planet of the Apes. Once again Andy Serkis manages to deliver an absolutely stellar performance as Caesar, pretty much carrying the entire movie on his back. The amount of emotion that Serkis is able to convey just with facial expressions is something that I consistently find amazing, and this movie is no exception. You also have every single other mocap artist who deserves a round of applause, but to name them all would take a lot of time (and I’ve already been rambling long enough). That being said I do really want to mention Steve Zahn, and his portrayal of Bad Ape. I already praised Bad Ape earlier, but just know that all of that stuff is brought to life by Zahn’s performance. I’m not joking when I say that Bad Ape is literally my favourite thing to come out of this entire franchise, and that’s saying something. I also want to give a shout-out to Woody Harrelson who did a great job playing an asshole. Despite his role being rather small (in screen time, not presence) Harrelson managed to be the kind of villain that makes your skin crawl whenever he is on screen. He was also able to bring a lot of emotion to the character when the story called for it, and once again make sure that there is no “black and white” in this story. I could go on and on about how much I loved this movie but I think I should call it here.
Knowing my affinity for prison break movies I probably would have loved War for the Planet of the Apes either way, but I’m being completely serious when I say this is the best movie I’ve seen all year. The raw emotion in the story, the acting, and the brilliant CGI is unmatched in anything I’ve seen recently, and despite this emotion the film managers to entertain you for two hours. I don’t know if they are going to make another instalment in this franchise taking into account the ending of this film, but if they do you can bet your ass that I will be in the theatre day one to see it.
I give War for the Planet of the Apes an A