- A bit long, but absolutely worth it
- A strong, compelling story of war, without senseless, glorified violence
- Amazing characters beautifully animated, the smallest of gestures conveying so much character
- Beautiful cinematography
- Soft, understated score supports a strong film
- Simply amazing – a perfect ending to an excellent trilogy and one of the best films of the year so far
I have a confession – until the last few days, I hadn’t seen any of the Planet of the Apes films. And so, in preparation for this, I made an effort to watch the previous two films from this trilogy (and have promised myself to one day watch the original Planet of the Apes too). As soon as I watched both Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I immediately regretted not watching them sooner. Surpassing my expectations, they were interesting, exciting and entertaining films with phenomenal CGI and typically excellent motion capture from the master that is Andy Serkis (though the second one lacked the memorable, engaging characters of the first, with Gary Oldman being criminally underused). So here is the final chapter of these prequels – is it a fitting ending to suit a strong, excellent trilogy? In short, yes absolutely. In fact, more than that, this is one of my favourite films of 2017 so far; it’s absolutely wonderful and I can’t recommend it more.
After a brief recapping of the previous two films, recounting the RISE and DAWN of the current situation, we dive straight into the WAR which has ravaged the film; the war between apes and humans, with some apes choosing to fight with the humans either because they disagree with Caesar or out of fear. After an opening battle, we catch up with Ape Army leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) who spares the captives of the battle (both human and ape), insisting that they just want to be left alone. Sadly The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) launches a night attack on the apes’ camp, making the war all too personal for Caesar who goes off on a revenge mission, with loyal companions Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) by his side. Soon they come across an innocent little girl Nova (Amiah Miller) and lost, vulnerable Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who they let join them, taking care of them. Soon, however, they find where The Colonel and his army are and the prison camp where they hold lots of apes captive. It’s up to Caesar and his loyal band to save them all from the wrath of the humans.
Part of the strength of the plot lies with how little is crammed in while still allowing for lots to happen. The film seems to rest on the story and world set up by the previous two films, as if those two are merely leading up to this epic finale. This allows for better pacing, letting the events feel more natural and organic, and really letting us get to know and love the characters. Although the pace does slow a little around the time of the prison camp section of the story, it never strays close to the point of boredom, events constantly happening to progress the story with nothing feeling rushed.
Whilst the plot largely revolves around a revenge story, this merely pushes the story forward; this movie is in fact a very strong war film. With references and inspirations from the likes of Spartacus, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Great Escape and Apocalypse Now, War for the Planet of the Apes could arguably stand toe-to-toe with even these cinematic titans. Even from the beginning we are thrown right into the middle of it, immersed on the human side initially, with a stealthy Vietnam-style attack on an ape stronghold in the forest. With more ‘war film action’ than ‘blockbuster action’ the violence here is more poignant and restrained, not violent for the sake of unnecessary excitement. That’s not to say that the action scenes are boring; when they get going, they’re exciting, edge-of-your-seat stuff, wonderfully choreographed. Yet there’s no senseless Transformers-style violence for violence sake; each outburst of violence and aggression has a point to it and it’s never excessive. In fact often it’s shockingly simple; two deaths in particular occurring without any fanfare at all the maturity of the film and its views on the tragedy of war really stand out.
Nowadays in a huge Hollywood movie with an enormous budget, to say “amazing CGI” goes without saying; it’s to be expected in this day and age considering the technology we have available to us. However, in a film such as this, it’s absolutely important to mention it. This is a movie where nearly all major characters (other than two humans) are entirely animated, many of them not even speaking out loud. Because of this it was absolutely imperative that the animation was spot on and the animators have succeeded tremendously. So much emotion and character is portrayed in the simplest of looks, sometimes more detail being conveyed from an animated ape than from most live-action actors.
So much emotion comes from the characters, all of which are distinctive and lovable, their strength being how we get to know these characters not necessarily through what they say, but by what they do, how they do it and how they interact with other characters. This shows much more character and lets us identify and feel much more emotionally connected with these animated apes. The smallest gesture can lets us fall in love with a character completely, be it giving someone a doll or putting a flower in someone’s hair. The central characters themselves are incredibly compelling and so easy to fall in love with – the gentle Orangutan Maurice especially is a favourite of mine, with the newcomer Bad Ape being the perfect comic relief that was so desperately needed. The chemistry with this band of brothers, this fellowship of ape is spot on. The strength of this film is not at all with the action, but with the characters and their interactions that can cut to our core, all of this being achieved through superb animation. All this emotion is emphasised through a beautiful, understated score by Michael Giacchino, who’s quickly becoming an absolute master, soon to be known as the sound of this decade’s cinema. It’s a shame that there’s no discernible, memorable tune, yet it nevertheless fits very well in the film, energising the story and emotions.
All of this comes together and is presented to us in a beautiful film. Michael Seresin did a remarkable job with the cinematography, making the deadly, dangerous war-ravaged world seem as hostile as it did beautiful. Some shots particularly stand out; such as a shot towards the beginning, before you see Caesar for the first time, you take his point of view as the camera tracks through a corridor of apes, dragging away the wounded, all of them showing their fear, respect and admiration. The shots and use of cinema are powerful and really add beauty and depth to an already excellent film. The change of scenery too is not only gorgeous to behold, but helps separate this third chapter from the previous two. Each seem to have their own scenery and this helps each seem separate and more distinct while still blending into one overarching story. While the first was largely in the city of San Francisco and the second largely in the forest, this final instalment is largely set in a snow-capped mountain, bringing new scenery and keeping the story-world fresh and captivating for the audience.
If this is anything to go by, DC should feel relieved they have a master director like Matt Reeves making The Batman.
All in all this is a superb film with few flaws. Yes, it may be a little on the long side being just under 2 ½ hours, but every minute is worth it; from beginning to end it’s a gorgeously shot, emotional journey that will keep you captivated and emotionally engaged. You’ll fall in love with the characters, forget they’re animated, and feel every joy and tragedy as if they’re happening to you that very moment. A compelling, emotional and engaging sci-fi/ war film that’s more than a fitting end to an excellent trilogy. The third film isn’t always the best, but this one is, hands down. Apes together strong!