With the tension between two species fighting for dominance of the planet having been sparked in Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, there is now an all out war raging between man and ape. The conflict isn’t as blurry in this next installment as it was in the last, though. In that film, there were still humans who wanted to help the apes, and Caesar still believed the two kinds could coexist in peace. Now, that hope is gone. The stage is set in the middle of brutal, relentless bloodshed, and Caesar is willing to do whatever it takes to save his people and the ones he loves.
From the second War for the Planet of the Apes began, I was getting chills of anticipation for what was to come. The first two films, which I also loved, were building to this epic climax, and it’s the definition of climactic. Every scene is infused with tension and a wonderful sense of uncertainty. It’s not so much an exciting action movie, though, as it is an intense drama and a war film. I have no problem ranking it up there with movies like Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now, because it had the same harrowing effect on me that those films did.
The apes are at the best they’ve ever been in War, both visually and character wise. The motion capture technology is beyond photo-realistic, even to the point where I don’t just look at the apes and see real animals, I look at them and sympathize with them because their expressions and their movements allow for a connection with the audience as real as any live-action performance. I’ve also grown to love the main characters—Caesar, Maurice, Rocket, and so many more—as the movies have gone on, so this movie is not only the climax of a trilogy, but the peak of many of these characters that are so resonant and well-portrayed.
There are a few additional characters introduced, including a mute young girl played by Amiah Miller, who manages to give one of the most heartwarming performances in the film without saying a word. There’s also Bad Ape, played by Steve Zahn, who was a fun character that added humor to the film without ever being overbearing.
Woody Harrelson plays the terrifying Colonel in the movie, and he’s easily the most imposing and threatening antagonist we’ve seen in this franchise. His character seemed so inhumane and remorseless, but like all good villains, he has weaknesses that make him so much more complex. There’s also quite a bit of Hitler/Holocaust imagery surrounding the Colonel and his role in the war against the apes, and it sets up an exceptionally bleak and harrowing environment.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a captivating masterpiece. Its characters—especially Caesar and the lengths he goes to in order to preserve his kind—are ultimately what make the film so moving. Michael Giacchino also composed a phenomenal score that might just be his best work. With gorgeous cinematography and CGI that blends so perfectly with the real world, War is an immersive experience and one that deserves serious attention and thought. It’s a powerful metaphor for the horrors of war and a poignant depiction of the darker side of humanity, but it also evokes a striking sense of hope and promise for the future.
— Camden McDonald