20th CENTURY FOX (2017)

Director: Matt Reeves

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller

Two years have passed since the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes with Caesar (Serkis) and simian co. finding themselves encamped and hiding in the San Francisco woodland as the humans begin to close in on them. Having not wanted war, Caesar finds himself being hunted and knowing that the inevitable confrontation will occur.

 

After his attempt at brokering peace backfires tragically, Caesar is consumed by the darkness that saw Koba lose himself in the previous movie and heads out on a personal mission of vengeance against the mysterious human leader, The Colonel (Harrelson), leaving behind his kind and venturing out to put his furious soul at rest. Accompanied by long-time cohorts Maurice (Karin Konoval), Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) and Rocket (Terry Notary), the apes find the impending human storm is about to hit.

Matt Reeves returns after helming Dawn and spent his pre-production time researching various old movies with writer Mark Bomback – including the original Apes movies, Bridge on the River Kwai, The Empire Strikes Back and surely Apocalypse Now as the movie nods its head with haste towards it (even respectfully having “Ape-ocalypse Now” graffiti’d within the camp.) That’s no bad thing as the movie’s feel and palette lend itself to such tone, there’s a weary feeling throughout and the movie is heavy going – but it’s not a depressing slog, thankfully.

 

Though leading with the clear theme of war, the movie focuses more on Caesar’s internal war and struggles, sidestepping the pitfalls of previous trilogy closers by not succumbing to full-on action and spectacle. It’s a testament to the writing that the movie succeeds as well as it does following this idea, but fear not – there is action, some explosive action. It’s a slow burner to begin with, though initially opening with a wallop, Reeves takes us in a more introspective direction and the movie follows Caesar almost solely throughout. There is an air of modern commentary flowing throughout the movie, and some messages of hope through despair also to cut through the weight.

 

There is some stunning imagery on show throughout, whether it be the Apes travelling slowly through the snow or the Rocky Mountains piercing the skies in the background, the cinematography on show is superb. Alongside that is the mind-blowing CGI/motion capture created by Serkis and WETA Digital, these Apes look and feel as if they’re right there in these locations and it’s incredible to see – some of the facial close-ups are simply staggering. Combine all of that with a sublime score by Michael Giacchino and here is a movie that looks, feels and sounds astonishing.

 

Serkis delivers yet another knockout performance, and surely deserves Academy Award recognition – if not for this movie, then for his contributions to mo-cap in movies. His physicality is this time paired with a bubbling fury and a laser-like focus and the powerful performance thunders the movie along. Harrelson delivers in his, albeit short, role as The Colonel – the menacing leader aiming to wipe out the apes. His fall from determined leader to utter madness harks to Apocalypse Now and is absorbing to see unravel. The scene they share in The Colonel’s bunker is strong and intense. All of the apes are brought to life wonderfully, and the actors that play them deserve great credit. Newcomer Amiah Miller is solid as the mute young girl the apes inherit along the way (craftily named Nova.)

 

The end of the second half seemed to drag slightly as the scenes in the prison camp continued to play out, and this slightly harmed the pacing of the movie, though not to a harmful level. The character of Bad Ape (Zahn) provides some levity to proceedings, though it took some time to warm to the character (I’m not sure I did 100%) as through the fog of war came this obvious comic relief character. That he was given a sad backstory only helped him to develop into more than a simple one-dimensional type, and provide some much needed development at that. It can also be said that the character of Nova was clumsily shoehorned in to provide humanity and hope, but there is enough payoff with her character to avoid this.

 

War for the Planet of the Apes had a tough task to finish off an already impressive double act, and it delivered exceptionally well. It delivers on Caesar’s arc, also with its pathos, emotion, action, story, writing and visual splendour, the movie wraps up one of the best cinematic trilogies of modern times. With a serene and poignant conclusion to the movie, we are given a message of hope after the dark times as the world fades away with a smile.

 

Brilliant.

July 16th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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