Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Toby Kebbell, Amiah Miller
3.5 STARS (out of 5)
The new series of Planet of the Apes movies have done something that many other reboots and relaunches have failed to do – in that they have largely revitalised an already well-loved property with genuine intrigue, with both Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes having already provided cinemagoers with plenty to mull over and marvel at without ever having to pine too much – if at all – for either the classic movies or the TV series. The immense box office and critical success of the first two movies has assured that 20th Century Fox continue to the franchise, and rightly so – particularly as the first two movies were surprisingly intense and gripping in ways that casual viewers may have been taken aback by. But does the third movie do the first two any justice? Yes – in a way – but it misses on a couple of marks.
Set some time after the events of Dawn, War begins as Caesar and his rogue band of intelligent apes continue to try and find their way through the wilderness, with human military keen to bring them down. The story continues long after the outbreak of a disease which has reduced humanity to its knees, and as apes have continued to grow in intelligence in parallel – to the extent where the apes are largely able to freely communicate, though Caesar is the only one to be able to speak fluently. One night, the apes are attacked by a military group led by Colonel McCullough (Harrelson) – as Caesar’s family, barring his youngest son, is killed in cold blood. This spurs the leader of the apes on to seek revenge, with his three closest allies in Maurice, Rocket and Luca behind him – but what will happen to the apes he leaves behind?
Anyone who has been watching these movies since Rise will have been with Caesar for a long time, and Andy Serkis continues to be absolutely wonderful behind the mo-cap suit. He delivers a brooding intensity that has been developing since the first instalment, and as such Caesar remains an incredibly engaging character to get behind – he has flaws and makes a number of poor decisions – but this saga is largely his doing, and we want to see him succeed. The main cast of apes shine with very little in the way of dialogue – body language and various nods and grunts are par for the course here – as while Caesar can speak English fully, others may only be able to communicate via sign language.
Woody Harrelson continues to prove that he is both versatile as antagonists and protagonists, and that he is again at the top of Hollywood’s list of go-to guys for utter psychopaths (perhaps taking over from Willem Dafoe in this regard). The story here is far simpler than previous instalments – and while some critics have praised its complexity, it is essentially a revenge story which goes slightly (understatement of the year) awry – in fact, one of the pitfalls the movie faces lies in the fact that the twists and the developments aren’t anywhere near as brutal or as shocking as we’ve seen in the first two movies. Moments such as Caesar speaking for the first time – a defiant ‘NO’ that bellowed through the cinema – are sadly lacking here, though the fairly predictable story is most certainly helped by the continued work of the visual team.
War for the Planet of the Apes - Official Final Trailer (20th Century FOX)
War of the Planet of the Apes is gorgeous – the character detail is incredible, and we’re never taken out of the action for a moment – this is really where the movie shines, along with the ape cast who do so much with so little in the way of dialogue. What’s here is immensely entertaining – from a visual spectacle, at the very least, and for the very fact that this is a franchise that already has such a strong grounding in two incredible outings at the cinema. They do, however, say that the third movie is the hardest to appeal to critics – though I am sure we have not seen the last of the apes, and that there are bigger and better stories to be told.
All in all, War is told well – it’s just a little flimsy in terms of storyline and in terms of how it adds into the overall mythos. It oddly feels a little as if it is a stepping stone to something bigger – and without spoiling anything, while the ending is satisfying (on one hand), it certainly feels as if there is something huge on the horizon in a future instalment which could well bring it in line with the classic movies. How far ahead a fourth movie will jump ahead, who knows – but in a summer that is seemingly crammed full of threequels, this one has a ton of heart, looks amazing and is, of course, a must for anyone keen on seeing where Caesar’s story goes next.