It’s really hard to find a modern day film trilogy that is consistently good these days. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a rare example in the fantasy genre, and John Wick could be on its way to being one of the greatest action trilogies yet. In the science fiction realm, things are a bit more lacking. The Matrix tried to capitalize on the first movie’s success with a trilogy where two parts were shot back to back and that didn’t work out so well for a number of reasons, the naked techno-sex rave being the first misstep. The Star Wars prequel trilogy? A complete bust. However, with this Apes franchise, starting at Rise of the Planet of the Apes, not only has the characters, but the story to drive it to the heights it’s at now, with spectacular special effects actually blurring the line between what’s real and CG. Rise had some of the best motion capture and special effects at the time of its release, but the Apes trilogy kept topping itself visually with each entry, and by this third movie, you can hardly tell the difference between the CG apes and the humans.
The movie starts off not too long after the battle that occurred in the climax of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar and his ape followers are now in hiding and being hunted by full on military forces, led by Woody Harrelson’s frightening Colonel McCullough. Even some of the remnants of Koba’s uprising have joined forces with the humans for fear of reprisal from the followers of Caesar and are used in the human war machine. By this time you’d have thought Caesar understood the role of being a leader and it would almost come completely natural to him, but that is hardly the case at all. Caesar’s character arc still had plenty of further exploration that was fully realized in this movie by the choices and paths he chooses to take throughout the story. The end result is often not pretty and is actually very emotionally taxing. If there were parts of Dawn of the Planet Apes that you thought were dark, War actually ups the ante quite a bit. This a very dark movie, as dark as one would expect with the word ‘war’ in the title. There is a true dichotomy to the relationship of Harrelson’s Colonel McCullough and Caesar to the point that their differences also make them come full circle at times. Both of them want what is best for their respective species, but the Colonel’s methods of getting to that point are far more brutal and uncompromising than those he looks down on as savage animals. Harrelson gives an admirable performance in the film. As an audience member, you definitely tense up anytime that he is onscreen with one of ape characters because you never know what he’ll do next. It’s a true testament to the directing talent of Matt Reeves and the storytelling skills of displayed by him and Mark Bomback that the viewer feels genuine concern about what happens to the apes and realizing that we are the bad guys. There may have been shining moments of human compassion in the first two films with the likes of James Franco and Jason Clarke’s characters, but in the final chapter aside from Nova, none of the humans are interested in co-existing with the apes any longer. The character of Nova was played brilliantly by newcomer Amiah Miller who is able to emote so well that it resulted in one of the film’s strongest performances without the actor even having to speak.
Along with Amiah’s character and performance, Steve Zahn’s brilliantly realized “Bad Ape” is a welcome addition to the franchise and adds some much needed levity at times in the film. The true stand out as always is Andy Serkis playing Caesar. This may sound overplayed because it has happened each time an Apes film from the rebooted franchise has been released, but the guy needs to at least get some consideration from the academy for the performances he’s turned out in this trilogy. I’ve seen better performances from Serkis in a motion capture suit than half of the other performers I’ve seen this year. (Looking at you, all of the Transformers and TV show movie adaptations out there.)
In the end, this movie serves as a perfect bookend to the series as a trilogy. We are provided closure to the story, but no definite end to the franchise. There were certainly plenty of call backs throughout all three movies to the original franchise, and the rebooted era can certainly continue on with more stories after a significant time jump. Matt Reeves may be extremely busy now with the next Batman movie, but he has stated that he is open to coming back to the Ape world. Without a doubt, I want a continuation of the Apes story that we’ve seen since the 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes that was started by Rupert Wyatt, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. It would be all the better to see it continued by Matt Reeves, who successfully kicked the franchise into overdrive, but there is no shortage in fresh directors and writers to pass the torch onto if his schedule doesn’t permit it.
So what does everyone else think? Did War for the Planet of the Apes fulfill your expectations for the trilogy? Is it one of the best trilogies of all time? And what do you want to see next from this world? Sound off below in the comments!
GEEK Grade: A
Images: 20th Century Fox