Published Jun 26, 2017The original Planet of the Apes movies (aside from the very first one) haven't held up particularly well in the nearly 50 years since their initial release. Part of that has to do with the character design; although John Chambers' prosthetic makeup was groundbreaking at the time, looking back, it's hard not to laugh at the animals' tight cheeks, wobbling lips and the series' resultant reliance on exposition to convey emotions.
CGI has come a long way since its creation in the early-to-mid-1970s, even in the six years since the franchise's rebooting with Rise of the Planet of the Apes back in 2011. With that in mind, director Matt Reeves and special effects company Halon Entertainment have done something unseen thus far in summer blockbusters with War for the Planet of the Apes, the final film in the third reboot of the famed sci-fi franchise: rather than focus their efforts on highly detailed battle scenes (although there are some of those too, particularly in the film's final act), they've created some of the most lifelike creatures ever seen on screen.
That, coupled with Reeves' decision to film much of the movie in close-ups — with most of its characters never speaking a word, opting for sign language instead — makes this movie one of the more surprisingly gripping and emotionally resonant big-budget pictures you'll see in theatres this season.
If Rise was about evolution and outbreak and Dawn was about weaponization, then War is the culmination of the two. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his people have been pushed back even deeper into the forests after the events of the last film. With the arrival of a new nameless colonel (Woody Harrelson) looking to exterminate all of ape-kind and any human who gets in his way, Caesar takes it upon himself to save his people, infiltrating a secret military base located somewhere between Northern California and Colorado. Captured, he learns about The Colonel's grave plans for the apes and the world at large, and is forced to devise an escape.
War for the Planet of the Apes isn't subtle when it comes to wearing its inspirations on its sleeve. Before filming, Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback got the film's distributor, Fox, to rent a theatre for them to watch hundreds of classic movies in, a process that helped imbue their story with elements of Apocalypse Now (The Colonel's shaved head, shot mostly in shadow; the words "Ape-Pocalypse Now" written in a sewer tunnel), The Great Escape (the final third of the movie is highly indebted to it in story and style) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (what with its jaw-dropping destruction).
It's also not very subtle with what it borrows from the real life political landscape. (The Colonel's main goal is to build a wall to keep out other forces, so make of that what you will.) In doing so, the film earns some timely political and cultural currency, while also setting it up to be a future classic.
Maximalist in its execution, War for the Planet of the Apes is an entertaining film with loads of layers and emotion, as well as a strong message. You can't ask for much more in a sequel.