Two movies have emerged from this rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise: Rise was a good movie, Dawn was a great movie. Now, we have reached the final and often tricky third act with War. Depending on this movie, we could be talking about one of the rarest things in Hollywood- a successful trilogy of movies. And the news is good. Because War is another great movie.
After Simian Flu was created, Apes were made into Einsteins and humanity was decimated. We arrive at the situation in War where mankind is essentially on its last legs. Their primary target is the leader of the apes, Caesar (played by Andy Serkis who is best known for Gollum in Lord of the Rings), who has tried his best to not continue the fight that rebellious apes began in Dawn. He has hidden away for a long time and had a family, trying not to get involved with the fighting. I won’t continue with more of the plot but Caesar is inspired to do something about the situation and events escalate from there.
Firstly, it is probably best to state that this is not a full-on, hardcore action movie as the title may suggest to you. There are some large action set-pieces but largely this is a dramatic film, as with the previous two, and the action advances the story and develops our characters. A lot of this movie is incredibly far removed from war with a great deal of innocence and heroism explored. The real “war” in my opinion is within Caesar himself. This internal conflict forms the backbone of the plot and Andy Serkis is outstanding. In combination with the once again superb visual effects, the emotion that he portrays is incredible and his character arc is beautifully realised in the movie. This is also true of the other apes; Caesar is still the focus but plenty of apes return from the previous movies with some fantastic new ones thrown in, especially an amusing little guy that the group happens across.
The cinematography is a real treat too with some fabulous shots towards the finale. This is another great directorial showing from Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) who shows he has a real handhold on these apes. Furthermore, we are treated to a great score by Michael Giacchino (rebooted Star Trek, Rogue One, The Incredibles), although a couple of moments felt a little overdramatised with other emotional beats left wanting.
My main criticism with this movie actually comes with the villain, played by Woody Harrelson (Hunger Games, No Country for Old Men). Whilst his performance is not bad at all and indeed at times it is great, but I vividly remember one particularly long scene with him that particularly displays the irregularity of the character. I feel the fault comes either with the writing of his character as the Colonel or with Harrelson’s own inherent quirkiness. Either way, his character felt a little unnatural and the resolution of the character’s arc is reasonably satisfying, if a little mishandled, to me.
However, this movie is another triumph. I can assuredly say that this is a great movie trilogy and that is a pretty rare thing to hear in terms of movies. War of the Planet of the Apes is gripping, exciting and wonderfully emotional whilst never going overboard. The villain never felt completely genuine to me but it did not detract that much from the movie for me because he really allows Caesar’s arc to come right to the forefront which has always been the strength of these movies for me. A great third act. Get watching!