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War For the Planet of the Apes Review: Ape Together Strong

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Sure, Matt Reeves is directing Batman, let’s get that out of the way early on, and focus on the movie at hand, War For the Planet of the Apes. The third installment in a new trilogy of films pre-dating the original Ape saga, we pick up where Dawn of the Planet of the Apes left off. With a Caesar (Andy Serkis) now facing the ghosts of his past, he does his best to maintain the pacifist nature as the Moses like being that he is. Of course, if someone wants peace that means there will always be someone who wants war. Matt Reeves directs a tragic and vividly conceptual piece of work with his second installment in this now trilogy of films with the same level of heart he brought to Dawn. 

We are quickly swept into the carnage of this new war of apes and humans, an ironically poetic statement at the very least which serves as the thought provoking theme of the entire series. Caesar is a leader who just can’t seem to catch a break, something many cultures and races of people can relate too, and still somehow maintains the principles that drive him to be the leader he is. The way this story turns is when that principle and philosophy gets challenged with brute force presenting a gripping, but sobering realization that what we fear can often be what we become.

As you’d expect, the motion-capture (mo-cap for short) is phenomenal from not just Serkis, but all the cast. From the water on the hair or the shadows that cast on the CGI characters has come such a long way over the years and seems to only be getting tighter with each film I see and this may be the very best. The close ups of the apes never feels inorganic in the least which would easily take me out of the film if in any other situation, but the seamless technological advancements on display of this movie are to be praised and rewarded come award season. But you don’t get believable CGI apes without the help of some talented actors and Serkis leads the charge along with a scene stealing Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, and Terry Notary as Rocket.

For fans of the new and original series, you will see details that nod to the original, but you will never feel anything that’s forced simply because nothing was forced at all. There is a level of respect, originality, and homage delivered in this film in the ways you’d hope they be. Obvious parallels to other films you can are Apocalypse Now and even Lord of the Rings if you’re a fan like I am – which has nothing to do with Serkis by the way. This is both a flaw and a compliment, but I wish the film was longer. There is such a richness to this mythology and the characters that this could have gotten away with being thirty minutes longer. There are so many great scenes that feel like a whole new genre while still maintaining the science-fiction that makes the films so great. A fusion of war, western, and thought provoking art house cinema can be seen all throughout to great effect.

Woody Harrelson as the Colonel is menacing as f**k. You don’t like him, you don’t want to like him, but damn it you understand him regardless of the calm insanity. As much as I’m glad this was an Ape-centric film, the human characters that we were given were understandable enough to have warranted a few more scenes to give more weight to their arcs once the third act arrives, but that’s nitpicking, this is a movie that needed to be, and was about, apes. It’s a grand adventure that belongs in the pantheon of other great adventure tales in any genre. It’s hybrid narrative combined with all sorts of genre tropes makes for such a magnetic pull into this world whether you were a fan before or not. Again, I just wish this had another hour to it. The studio says that they don’t plan on ending this franchise anytime soon which is bittersweet to know, but hopefully 20th Century Fox and Matt Reeves can team up again once he’s done with The Batman in order to bring that magic they have back together again.

As a whole, there was nothing I could find frustrating, glaring, or overall negative to this film. Simply because I’m greedy and most of my favorite films average out to two and a half hours in length, I’m just mad the film ended at all. Still, this was a movie that had me getting all forms of chills that ranged from sad to angry to just conflicted gratification and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. This is a film that should be the example for why and how blockbuster films should be made, with heart, planned out story, and characters you want to see continue or conclude their journeys. This is without a doubt one of the best films of the year alongside Logan and I imagine it will stick by the time this year ends.

SCORE: A

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