War for the Planet of the Apes is the last chapter in the rebooted franchise for the Planet of the Apes trilogy. This time around, the apes, led by Ceasar (Andy Serkis) have disappeared deep into the forest. They think they have put enough distance between themselves and the humans, this time led by a sadistic man known only as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). They thought they could live in peace away from the humans but they thought wrong. The Colonel has a thirst for vengeance that cannot be satiated but when he does the unthinkable to Ceaser’s family, vengeance becomes a two-way street.
War for the Planet of the Apes is part war film, part prisoner of war film but mostly this is about hate and revenge told from the ape’s point of view. Humans are the trespassers and aggressors. The apes simply want to be left alone but are trying to make for the coast which ends up to be quite a hike and very dangerous. Ceasar and The Colonel are so blinded by their hatred and rage that anyone who is close to them gets hurt or killed. These are two characters that have embraced their hate and revenge and it consumes them.
Now as far as these Planet of the Apes films go as a franchise, my own personal favorite is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes from 2014. War for the Planet of the Apes is number two on the list. This is a powerfully brooding and solemn film that features some terrific action and battle sequences but excels because of the characters and the script. The screenplay is smartly written by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves (who also directs) and features a strong cast with some tremendous acting. Andy Serkis is powerful as Ceasar. He has tried to tame the inner beast within him but when he finally reaches his breaking point, he no longer tries to keep his fury in check. He cuts it loose.
The Colonel is probably the weakest character in this film. Woody Harrelson is such a fine actor, but here his character is a bit underutilized. Harrelson seems to be channeling his inner Colonel Kilgore from Apocolypse Now. Yes, he is mean and vicious but there is very little back story as to why he is the way he is. There is only an implied loss of his son who died years ago and we only know this by a picture he keeps. Harrelson’s choice to speak…….so……..slowly is an odd one, too. I guess the filmmaker’s thought it adds to his menacing presence but it comes across as a bit tiring.
There are additions to this cast with a character only known as “Bad Ape” which is played surprisingly well by Steve Zahn. This is an ape that has adapted to being on his own and fending for himself since he escaped from the local zoo. As a result, he wears human clothes and eats human food, but he feels guilty about doing so. Zahn, who has mostly been in lighter fare and for his comedic abilities, plays it mostly serious as Bad Ape and does a terrific job in this role. Newcomer Amiah Miller is a young mute girl who gets the name Nova because of the car ornament she carries with her. Though she does not say a word of dialogue, Ms. Miller has a rather strong screen presence that is essential to the film.
Film score composer Michael Giacchino provides an outstanding score that should be up for some Oscar consideration. He has clearly patterned this score after Jerry Goldsmith’s score from the original Planet of the Apes films from the 70’s. Giacchino has not copied, simply composed an homage to the legendary Goldsmith’s scores which feature a lot of percussion and several motifs which Mr. Goldsmith did frequently. Mr. Giacchino’s score stands out on its own merits, though and is one of his best scores to date.
War for the Planet of the Apes also features a final battle sequence in which an army of humans attack The Colonel’s compound with helicopters, tanks and thousands of soldiers. Who are these people and why are they attacking The Colonel’s compound? It is never explained who are what they are and what their motivation is. It simply pops up out of nowhere to facilitate an ending. Why not have the final battle be between humans versus apes? I mean, that is what these films have been about, right?
The underused Woody Harrelson, his odd speech pattern and a head scratching final battle sequence are the only elements that keep War for the Planet of the Apes from being a masterpiece. As this film stands it is a fine film. It is powerful, haunting and thrilling featuring superb acting, seamless blending of CGI effects with live action, an Oscar worthy score and stunning cinematography. Matt Reeves skills as not only a writer but a director show he is destined for greatness. He has come a long way in a short time, but he has been blessed with talent and it shows. War for the Planet of the Apes is a fitting close to one of the better reboots coming from Hollywood in the past twenty-five years.
War for the Planet of the Apes – **** out of five
War for the Planet of the Apes – Rated PG-13 for war violence, scenes of peril, language and adult situations
War for the Planet of the Apes – Run Time is 141 minutes
War for the Planet of the Apes is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.