In War for the Planet of the Apes, Andy Serkis, reprising his role as honourable ape-leader Caesar, once again brings incredible depth, pathos, and, ironically, humanity to a character whose presence is created entirely in motion-capture. Having mastered this cutting-edge breakthrough technology playing Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, Serkis skilfully uses his voice, facial expressions and body language to ‘become’ Caesar in the Apes franchise. Three films in, and its hard to find a false note in his performance.
The new film opens in a world that is at the cusp of war. A war between humans and apes, triggered by a deadly virus that is rapidly claiming the lives of humans while making the simians more intelligent and vocal. Caesar makes every effort to maintain peace between both factions, but a cruel Army colonel (Woody Harrelson) is determined to eradicate the apes.
This is easily the darkest film in the trilogy following 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But it’s also the strongest in terms of both technical and emotional impact. This is that rare film that merges blockbuster thrills with compelling, intelligent character drama.
Writer-director Matt Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback weave relevant political themes into the plot that especially resonates in these divisive times. There are echoes of other films too, including, most obviously Apocalypse Now. There is Biblical imagery as well, in a sequence where Caesar is flogged and crucified as he attempts to lead his tribe to a place far away from the atrocities of men.
The movie feels flabby in its middle portion, which unfolds in a concentration camp where the Colonel has enslaved the apes. There are occasional moments of humour, most of which are provided by Bad Ape, a new character, played by a terrific Steve Zahn. Reeves boldly gives us a film with no more than a handful of human characters, and where much of the communication between the apes is conveyed through subtitles.
The glue that binds the film in the end is Caesar, or the lifelike portrayal by Serkis. It’s a deeply affecting performance that is rich in emotion. The actor somehow manages to imbue the animal with a multitude of feelings and a distinct personality. It’s impossible that you won’t be moved.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for War for the Planet of the Apes. It’s a rock solid thriller with a big beating heart at its center. Definitely worth your time.
Rating: 3.5 / 5