By Lorna Baker
Back in 2001, Tim Burton tried his hand at rebooting the Planet of the Apes franchise, but with limited success. Whilst the film was a financial victory, it was panned by the critics; citing its confusing and muddled storyline – and so the series was dead in the water.
However, fast forward to 2011 and Rupert Wyatt was at the helm of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, an altogether more well thought-out and executed venture. Followed up by the impressive Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), directed by Matt Reeves, we’re now at the third instalment in this series with War for the Planet of the Apes.
Following on from the previous two films, ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) desperately tries to protect his colony of intelligent apes from the threat posed by a sinister Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and his army of Chimp-hating soldiers. After the assassination of his wife and son, Caesar sets out on a deadly mission to get revenge on the Colonel; but his actions could have dangerous consequences to all of ape-kind.
After setting the groundwork in the second film, Matt Reeves returns to the director’s chair with some aplomb. The various battles, whilst largely featuring the stunning CGI apes, feel visceral and thrilling; yet Reeves still manages the tender and reflective moments with care. He’s a steady and sure hand to this franchise!
Once again, the criminally underrated Andy Serkis is the shining star. Using motion-capture as oppose to prosthetics gives him a lot more scope and freedom to show the emotions clearly through his character, and boy is this technology used well. All of the computer generated imagery is just stunning, really giving life and spirit to these apes. Even with just one crinkle of the brow, you can easily tell what Caesar is thinking.
This is in large part due to Serkis’s pitch perfect characterisation that he’s perfected throughout these three films. It’s also fascinating to see his character’s progression throughout the series, as his intelligence grows, which makes his big, spoken confrontation with the Colonel all the more powerful – you can get a real sense of how much has changed.
Woody Harrelson strikes the perfect villain. He’s almost understandable in his initial motives, but he takes it seamlessly into crazy town, enslaving the chimp colony into building him a fortified compound – showing staggering cruelty as he does so. He is the perfect opponent to Caesar, strong and opinionated, desperately trying to protect his way of life. His confrontations with Caesar are full of venom and swagger at what he’s achieved.
It’s the morality and the internal struggles that work so brilliantly in this film. It’s a much darker movie than its predecessors, and Caesar’s struggles between his wild need for vengeance and the desire to protect his ideals and hunger for peace are brilliantly played. Both the humans and apes show their wild nature and their compassion, so much so its harsh to call the apes ‘wild animals’.
Overall, it’s a strong outing that’s beautifully shot and animated, but with real heart and soul. With the apes discovering their own perfect oasis at the end of the film, has the series found its perfect end?
Cineroom’s Rating: 4 Stars
War for the Planet of the Apes screened at the Phoenix Cinema and currently worldwide – certificate 12A