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  • Writer's pictureJohn Parker

War for the Planet of the Apes review

There are fewer things more satisfying than a series of films going out on an unequivocal high, and my goodness has Matt Reeves delivered. Following the tight family drama of Rise, and the tense action thrills of Dawn, War brings the trilogy to a conclusion in truly epic style.

Picking up two years after the events of Dawn, ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) is trying to protect his tribe without engaging the humans in any further conflict. He shows mercy to a small band of soldiers, urging them to leave the forest to the apes, and end the bloodshed. But this message fails to move Woody Harrelson’s Kurtz-like Colonel, whose brutal and ruthless incursion into the ape stronghold sets Caesar on a quest of vengeance.

His loyal lieutenants Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary), and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) join him on this quest, and along the way they encounter a mute child (Amiah Miller), and a former circus ape – played brilliantly by Steve Zahn – who after years of torment and mistreatment thinks his name is Bad Ape.

Whilst Bad Ape brings some much-needed levity to proceedings, the girl is more intriguing and could be the missing link in the evolution of this trilogy and its eventual connection to the original saga.

Much like the first sequel, War doesn’t pause to ruminate on the fates of the human characters we followed in the past. This is, and always has been, Caesar’s story. And that is not something to be taken lightly. A CGI character being the central character of a trilogy as good as this, is nothing short of astonishing, and it could not have been possible were it not for two factors: the genius of Andy Serkis, and the sensational artistry of Weta.

There are no dead eyes, uncanny valley, or weightless beasts here. The digital work is so seamless you don’t even see it. All you see are the performances of the actors, and they are incredible. Serkis in particular is once again on awards worthy form.

Rich with cinematic references, and drawing on the styles and themes of some of cinema’s all-time classics, War for the Planet of the Apes is a film lover’s dream. Over two hours and twenty minutes, we are taken on a journey to the heart of darkness to confront a renegade Colonel, fighting his own war by his own rules. Along the way, in the dark green forest-scapes, soldiers with murderous slogans on their helmets, patrol for “kong”. Elsewhere, a band of wily old warriors on horseback ride across the plains for one last adventure. An adventure that leads them to a POW camp, and the scene is set for a great escape.

From ‘Nam to WWII, via classic westerns, and the films of Lean, Kurosawa, and Malick, director Matt Reeves wears his influences on his sleeve, but War is entirely its own thing. A wholly unique modern blockbuster, successfully balancing the visceral thrills of a war movie with a deeply affecting and poignant story. Where other directors may have chosen to take the third act from Dawn as a template to go ballistic, Reeves has daringly opted for something more philosophical and introspective. In doing so he has made one of the best films of the year.

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