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Retrospective Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)



Successfully culminating as acclaimed series is no easy feat, but Matt Reeves achieves this in spades through epic, emotional and thought-provoking storytelling in War for the Planet of the Apes. The film works as a worthy final installment to one of the best modern trilogies, as well as a fantastic sci-fi action-drama on its own. Reeves and company inject the film with gravitas and sincerity, giving Caesar, the send-off he deserves.

The story picks up up a couple years after Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and follows the rogue military branch, Alpha-Omega, – led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) – hunting down Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the rest of the apes. After tragedy strikes, Caesar is driven by vengeance on a quest to kill the Colonel, who has created a fortress run by slave apes. Here, the Colonel attempts to keep out opposing soldiers who are against his methods of killing humans that have gone mute because of a mutation in the Simian Flu virus. As Caesar attempts to free his tribe, he is forced to negotiate his need for retribution with what it means to be a leader.

Despite the title, this film does not have an onslaught of action – and that’s not a bad thing. This is a thoughtful, character-centric drama as much as it is a sci-fi, action film. Reeve’s superbly balances the action, plot and characters to create a compelling film. War feels massive in scale and ambition, but also intimate and focused. Every action scene is visceral and tension-filled; the consequences are always felt. Meanwhile, the main source of drama is consistently rooted in the characters, with their motives and emotions being prioritized. Reeve’s maintains a steady, controlled flow to the film’s pace, allowing the atmosphere and events to resonate.

Like most great genre films, there is substance within the spectacle. And War continues to tackle themes of loyalty, sacrifice, leadership and family through its blending of various genres. On top of the sci-fi premise, the first half of the movie plays like a revenge-Western, as Caesar and a few companions track down the soldiers on horseback. But once they reach Alpha-Omega’s base, the story evolves into an almost biblical epic. The Moses allegory is very apparent once the apes are locked in the human base and Caesar has to liberate them from slavery.

Speaking of whom, Caesar is once again handled with great reverence. Watching this complex character’s journey from the first installment to this, has been incredibly fulfilling. We see him come into his own as a respected leader, as he struggles with his anger towards the humans that have taken so much from him. He’s not perfect, but he does whatever it takes to help his clan. It’s impressive how Caesar is able to live up to the legendary status he has earned. Andy Serkis, as always, gives a stand-out performance in a film that rests atop his shoulders. We are able to empathize with Caesar’s struggle and emotions all thanks to Serkis’s captivating work.

Additionally, supporting characters like Maurice, Bad Ape, Rocket, Luca and Nova are all important contributors to the film’s plot and themes. Their faith and service to Caesar provides some of the most heartfelt scenes. Even the traitor apes add to the story’s rich drama. Reeve’s effectively provides ample space for characters to interact with each other and show their personality. The serious and thoughtful care put into these films has built a true emotional attachment towards these apes, for audiences.

Once again, the apes take precedence over the human characters – even more so than the previous films. In fact, they display more humanity than the humans themselves. The Colonel is the only human figure we get any insight into, and his ruthless, uncompromising nature effectively contrasts the compassionate and selfless leadership of Caesar. The only real drawback of the film is that Alpha-Omega’s conflict with the opposing soldiers and the Simian Flu virus’ mutation aren’t fleshed out quite enough. However, those are minor quibbles that can be easily overlooked because of how much this movie succeeds in its pathos. It’s a moving, heartfelt film that makes you invested in the characters and their journey.

Moreover, the craftsmanship and technical merit of this film is also sublime. Michael Seresin’s cinematography is absolutely stunning. Whether it’s the quiet moments or action set pieces, every shot is beautifully constructed. And just like the previous installments, the visual affects bringing the apes to life is breathtaking; all the actors do a wonderful job with performance-capture. Meanwhile, Michael Giacchino tops his musical score from Dawn by using familiar themes, as well as adding great new ones that are sure to leave an impression.

With War for the Planet of the Apes, Matt Reeve’s makes the conclusion to Caesar’s arc deeply exhilarating and emotionally satisfying. The exceptional storytelling and craftsmanship displayed in this epic drama solidifies it as one of the best films of 2017.

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