OHHHHHH MYYYYYY GOOOOOOD!!! YEEEEEES!!!
As you can probably tell, I’m so excited for this movie. But as per usual, let’s briefly talk about the legacy of the Planet of the Apes franchise. I say “briefly” because I can’t too much about the original… how many films were there? Five? I’ve never seen them. Don’t lynch me, movie buffs! I didn’t see them as a kid because, in my household, they were too violent and not meant for kids. As the years progressed and my parents stopped caring whether or not movie violence would turn me into a serial killer, which it did not, I’ve just never made the time to see them. I know the original film, THE PLANET OF THE APES (1968) is considered a great and classic film with interesting social commentary and a bunch of other stuff that I probably don’t know. The rest of the films throughout the 70’s, as I understand it, have had their own merits, but were never really as good as the first film.
But as… “not as good” as the sequels were, nothing would really gain such a bad rep as the Tim Burton remake- oops, I’m sorry, the “reimagining” – PLANET OF THE APES (2001), starring Mark Wahlberg… er, before he was great. While the make-up was praised, the acting was downright hokey, and the plot barely made sense, man, the list of reasons why this movie didn’t work could reach the moon and lasso it. For example: WAHLBERG MAKES OUT WITH A MONKEY!!! EEEEEWWWWW!!! I think I liked it enough as a kid, but as an adult, no. Just… no.
But then a great gift happened to this franchise ten years later. We were graced with a new reboot, specifically a prequel to the Apes franchise called RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011). There are so many reasons why I love this film. First off, I love Andy Serkis. I fell in love with his mocap performances in the Lord of the Rings franchise and KING KONG (2005). Since then, anything he touches is gold and I fall in love with. So when the time came for him to bring to life a new ape to cause problems for humans, I radiated excitement. And lo and behold, RISE was a mega hit and wildly popular with audiences. This was arguably James Franco’s best performance, or at least one of them, Serkis delivered incredible expression and mannerisms to his role as Caesar, with a really compelling backstory that is tragic, but set in motion a highly anticipated future.
Then… DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) happened and brought the franchise to the heels of what the original movies would ultimately become. The title is… probably indistinguishable from RISE, but hey, it was a great movie too. I think the lead human characters were… duller than Franco was. Not by much, but noticeably not as interesting, but like it should be, the focus is on Serkis as Caesar who is only trying to provide for and protect his family and people from other humans, whose population has horribly decreased thanks to a virus and there is great tension between the two factions when they ultimately meet. Oldman delivered a great performance, Toby Kebbell’s performance as problem-ape Koba put the man on the map for me as another great mocap performer, and God damn, was I ready to see this war that’s been built up.
Now it’s here. Ladies and gentlemen… it’s here. This is arguably one of the most highly anticipated movies of this year for me and why shouldn’t it be? Apes on horseback with shotguns and assault rifles slung over their shoulders, human commandos in full assault mode, lots of snow, a human child being cared for by Caesar, and it looks like there’s plenty of apes that have defected from Caesar’s leadership and help the humans fight their own kind. I’ve got the highest of high expectations here and I think I’m still going to be blown away.
Well, here’s the incredible cast. Starring, we have Serkis (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS , THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY , DEATHWATCH , and the upcoming STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI  and BLACK PANTHER ), Woody Harrelson (WILSON , THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN , TV show TRUE DETECTIVE, and the upcoming SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY ), and young newcomer Amiah Miller (LIGHTS OUT , and TV shows MACGYVER and RICHIE RICH). In support, we have returning veterans Karin Konoval (both DAWN and RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, 1 episode of TV show IZOMBIE, and the upcoming hybrid live-action/animated movie WOODY WOODPECKER  and I’m pretty sure it’s a foreign film), Judy Greer (WILSON, ANT-MAN , and CARRIE ), mocap veteran and stunt-man, Terry Notary (KONG: SKULL ISLAND , WARCRAFT , and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES ), and… Toby Kebbell? (KONG: SKULL ISLAND, A MONSTER CALLS , and THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE ). Um… questions! Newbie support includes Steve Zahn (CAPTAIN FANTASTIC , RESCUE DAWN , and CRIMSON TIDE ), Gabriel Chavarria (LOWRIDERS  and FREEDOM WRITERS ), and Alessandro Juliani (MAN OF STEEL , and TV shows THE 100 and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA).
Now for the talent behind the scenes. Directing and co-writing is Matt Reeves, known for DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, LET ME IN (2010), and CLOVERFIELD (2008). His partner-in-pen is Mark Bomback, known for Divergent series INSURGENT (2015), THE WOLVERINE (2013), and LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007). Composing the score is the ever-amazing Michael Giacchino, known for SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017), STAR TREK BEYOND (2016), INSIDE OUT (2015), and upcoming films JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018) and INCREDIBLES II (2018). Finally, the cinematographer is Michael Seresin, known for DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, STEP UP (2006), HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004), and the upcoming MOWGLI (2019).
Overall, super stoked. Don’t feel like saying more.
This is my honest opinion of: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
The war between apes and humans continues. In hopes of leaving the war for good, an ape scouting team brings news of a new home where they believe the humans won’t find them. However, before leaving, the humans locate the home of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his fellow apes. They infiltrate the place lead by the ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson) with the intention of assassinating him. Instead, Caesar sees the corpses of his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and his eldest son Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones). While the humans are pushed back, Caesar tells his people to leave for their new home while he sets out to find the Colonel and exact revenge on him for the death of his family.
YEAH!!! I would argue that there isn’t much war in the movie, but YEAH!!!
Isn’t that sort of misinformation? For a movie titled “War,” it’s kind of a bummer that there’s only one or two scenes worth of warfare, and only one of those battles was actually between apes and humans. The rest of the movie is Caesar and his small group searching for the Colonel. Among other plot points, but that might give away too much. So… wouldn’t a more accurate title be, “Exodus of the Planet of the Apes” or, “Conquest,” or, “Rebellion”? I’d call this a legit complaint if the rest of the movie didn’t deliver one of the most impressive and refreshingly well-made films of the year.
Something to keep in mind when going into this movie. While all the films have essentially been about Caesar, both RISE and DAWN have given plenty of screen time to human characters, possibly for that “human connection” component that movies desperately feel like they need. James Franco for RISE and Jason Clarke and Kerri Russell for DAWN, but this movie shamelessly shines the spotlight on Caesar all the way through. What few human characters that there are get such little screen time and I say it’s about damn time. In fact, it adds this new layer that it only took me until now to realize. The way I’ve been interpreting this is that in RISE, there were a lot of human characters because, no duh, there were a lot of humans in this period of the timeline. In DAWN, we’re given a few more human characters, but I believe it’s because it was meant to convey this sense of, “All these people we’re throwing at you… that’s is. That’s all that’s left.” You know, because of the virus that nearly wiped out all of humanity. But now, years into this war, we’re given a crap ton of screen time with a large population of apes and the only humans that we see are soldiers. Not a single civilian in sight if you don’t count Nova (Amiah Miller). There’s this haunting, yet beautifully executed, atmosphere that the franchise is coming full circle and becoming that planet of apes.
Leading the way is, as always, the incredible talent that brings Caesar to life. For God’s sake, someone give Serkis an Oscar. Just shut up and hand that golden statue to him for his incredible acting using very little words and mostly just in his expressions. You could probably cut out all the dialog and know exactly what’s on his mind. In fact, I think I saw an interview that dialog was actually written for many of these scenes, but the filmmakers and actors were toying with the idea of just using the expressions to say the dialog and I think that’s why most of the scenes are like that because they worked so well. But if there’s anyone else that deserves as much praise as Serkis is every other mocap actor whose dialog is literally in sign language, like Maurice (Karin Konoval), Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), and Rocket (Terry Notary)… er, maybe more specifically Maurice, as he gets more screen time to connect with Nova. In DAWN, we know that Maurice only knew the bad side of human nature, but I like how in this movie, he comes around and cares for Nova.
This may not be the selling point for the film, but the more I think about Nova, the more I love her inclusion in the story. She’s that little girl featured in the trailer and she can’t speak for reasons that I won’t give here, but I can only give Miller the highest of praise for her acting, despite her youth. Like the ape characters, she can only act through her eyes and expressions and she’s absolutely wonderful. At first glance, you’d think she’s only there to pander to the audience that needs something cute to look at. But the story doesn’t ultimately make her out that way. There is an air of mystery to why she is the way she is and I believe that her presence in the group is a constant reminder to Caesar that, despite his loses and hatred toward the Colonel, there is a shred of humanity left in him to keep him grounded. Their relationship is a big question mark for much of the story. Whenever they share screen time, all they do is make glances and glares at each other. It’s almost like she knows that Caesar killed her father, but as the story progresses, she develops a sweet connection with the apes. I especially enjoy this moment with Luca the gorilla who gives Nova a flower to put in her hair. Giving little girls flowers seems to be a new trend in sci-fi films these days.
Moving on, it’s probably a good idea to mention the strangest new character to the line-up, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). Basically, he’s about the only other ape that actually talks other than Caesar, but is a little crazed. So contrary to his name, he’s one of the good guys. And he’s the comic relief. I know, right? Zahn as comic relief. What else is new? Thing is… his character may be a hit or miss for a lot of people. Bad Ape… if I understood him correctly, grew up in captivity and had a child, but at some point escaped. I think there’s a real sadness to the character. He’s barely holding it together, but there’s still a cheeriness to him that makes you feel bad for him. Some of his mannerisms may feel a little too hokey, but I think this is tapping into a new dimension for apes: PTSD, or depression. Either or. Whatever happened to Bad Ape was left pretty ambiguous. Still, this is definitely one of the better performances that Zahn has dished out. I don’t know how well received his character will be with general audiences, but I think it just narrowly missed being annoying and remained nuanced.
And now… the unspoken American treasure himself… Harrelson. Can this man do no wrong? Talk about intimidation personified. From the moment he appears on screen in the movie, he’s covered in camo face-paint and stares down Caesar after seeing what he’d done. This moment is dripping with unbelievable tension, and runs a serious gauntlet of emotion. Caesar’s devastated by seeing the bodies of his wife and eldest son, but seething, primal rage at the Colonel. And he is definitely staring at Caesar like he’s confused at who he just killed, but you see his own hatred for the apes. All of this you can immediately pick up with only two shots between two characters. The thing I appreciate most is that he isn’t a pure-blooded monster. Once again, I find this brilliant subtlety to his character. While he’s certainly a soldier through and through, he did seem to lament the fact that he didn’t kill his intended target and quite possibly murdered a pair of innocent lives. There is a sense of respect that he shows Caesar. But make no mistake, these characters are hardcore enemies and want nothing but the other’s demise.
I think having had enough time to really process the film, I do have one legit complaint. The movie is a touch repetitive of the previous films. I mean, really think about it. Other than we don’t get much warfare in the movie, the second half to final third of the movie takes place in a concentration camp for the migrating apes that the Colonel happened upon. Didn’t we already see apes in cages? I mean, Caesar was born in a lab where they were experimented on. He freed a ton of apes in a zoo who were mistreated like none other and broke free. Why are we seeing this concept again? This could have easily been a variation of the “Rise” of the planet of the apes story, but no, the movie’s title implies that we’d see more warfare. Not more captivity and jail-breaking. Hell, DAWN had more warfare than this movie did. We’ve already seen Caesar become the leader that lead to the apes’ independence. It’s a little too rehashed for my taste.
Also, I did find Red Donkey’s (Ty Olsson) redemption to be a little forced as he hasn’t had many problems with letting the humans killing his own kind. At least he gets killed for his sins.
Overall, while the movie’s title is misleading, it’s hard to deny how beautifully well-done this film is. Wonderful special effects and mocap talent, a simple story interwoven with complex ideas, and keeping its fanbase looking forward to the next installment and where this story can be taken. I love this movie and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s been a fan of this prequel series thus far.
My honest rating for WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: a strong 4/5