Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

by Lachlan Anderson

Rated M. Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn. Directed by Matt Reeves.

First we saw the Apes Rise, and then there was a Dawn and now a War. The titles for the Andy Serkis led Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy don’t make a lot of sense, but each film has been an impressive and enjoyable watch. Serkis returns as Caesar in the third chapter of the trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes, which pits his hyper intelligent apes against the last of humankind.

Set two years after the fall out from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, humans and simians are knee deep in a bloody conflict. Caesar (Serkis) has eluded capture by hiding his ape colony deep in the northern California forest. He is hunted by the savage Colonel McCullough (Harrelson) and weary of the constant loss of life on both sides. When the Colonel attacks those dearest to the ape leader, Caesar vows revenge and to end the war for good.

Director Matt Reeves returns after piloting the very well-received second instalment in this series, and despite its title the threequel is mostly bare of war. His film works best when it focuses on the fallout of war.  Serkis in particular proves that he can pretty much act as anything. The CGI apes, along with motion-captured performances, look truly remarkable. We’re inching closer and closer to making nature documentaries entirely on a Mac in a graphics studio.

Whilst the emotional side of the story is interesting, the film lacks a lot of the punch you’d expect for a trilogy finale. It has elements of war-time classics like The Great Escape, but a film called War for the Planet of the Apes should really have some bigger set pieces.  At the centre of the conflict is Harrelson’s Colonel, who should be menacing but comes off more cartoonish, with severe God delusions.

Over the course of the trilogy the audience’s allegiances have shifted. We go from the viewpoint of humans, to sharing the perspective of both the apes and surviving humans, to this film where we now sympathise most with the apes. Humanity is at its most vile here. In fact all but one of the humans on screen are military. If ever we need a sobering self-reflection, this is it.

Viewers may pick up on the obvious Christ allusions in Ceasar’s character, or the megalomania in the Colonel – “I sacrificed my son to save humanity” – but War also reminds humanity of its weaknesses. The disease that ravages the earth in these films is humanity’s own fault, punishment for playing God and over extending our hands. It’s pretty bleak, but luckily we do see the model for mercy and selflessness of Jesus in Caesar’s character.

The Verdict: An emotionally fulfilling end to an impressive trilogy, which has helped develop motion capture CGI immensely. A lack of big set pieces and half-drawn characters detract from what could have otherwise been a riveting third chapter. 3/5

War for the Planet of the Apes is in cinemas now.

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