War for the Planet of the Apes
by George Wolf
They’re not kidding, this is a war movie.
The rebooted Apes trilogy concludes with a thrilling, deeply felt and always engrossing rumination on the boundaries of humanity and the levels of sacrifice, where the wages of brutality are driven home in equal measure by both sweeping set pieces and stark intimacy.
Two years after the events in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis, again making an Oscar nod for a motion-capture performance seem inevitable) is leading an ape army that has suffered heavy casualties.
Despite some cunning maneuvers, Caesar is on the run from The Colonel (Woody Harrelson, also award-worthy), an unforgiving military dictator who shaves his head and preaches dominance of a master race.
Director/co-writer Matt Reeves says “Ape-pocalypse Now” before you can, but such an obvious ode to Brando’s Colonel Kurtz ultimately becomes a clever misdirection for the layered themes that resonate on a much more current level.
Reeves, returning from 2014’s Dawn, expands his vision of this franchise and its possibilities, crafting a majestic slice of summer entertainment that also reminds us of what fertile soil fear can easily become.
And yet amid all this heavy drama, some bittersweet humor finds a home, due mostly to “Bad Ape” (Steve Zahn), a hermit who is found by Caesar and his followers. Zahn’s performance is expressive and touching, his frequent close-ups serving as amazing evidence of the visual wonders at work. As the trilogy has progressed, the effects have improved in perfect sync with the cognitive growth of the ape characters, giving this third installment new depths in the richness of its storytelling.
The raging battles give way to a personal war within Caesar, as he balances the good of his population with a primal desire for revenge. His final meeting with The Colonel does not disappoint, thanks to the subtle foreshadowing and effective thrills that fill Reeves’s confident march to the showdown he knows we want.
Ultimately, we’re left with a bridge to the original 1968 film in sight, and a completely satisfying conclusion to a stellar group of prequels.
But is there room for more?
You bet, and War for the Planet of the Apes makes that prospect more than welcome.