War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Amiah Miller

Rating: A

Recommended?: Yes

Genre: Sci-fi/Action

Watched on: Amazon Instant

One thing that continues to strike me about the spin-offs of the 1968 Charlton Heston classic Planet of the Apes (which I’ve actually never seen) is how goddamn emotional they are. You wouldn’t expect to feel a large amount of compassion for highly intelligent renegade apes brought to life with modern CGI and motion capture acting, but Ceasar (Andy Serkis)’s story has almost brought me to tears several times. War for the Planet of the Apes is a surprisingly thoughtful blockbuster with some really dark themes and, as usual, a fantastic performance by Serkis, the undisputed king of motion capture and bringing characters to life through his intense, emotive acting

I thought Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the second film in the modern Planet of the Apes canon wasn’t quite on par with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but this film is at least as good as first film and definitely better than the second, which overall was the weak spot in the trilogy. After the Simian flu wipes out the majority of the human race, Ceasar (Andy Serkis) and the his army of apes search for a safe haven while being pursued by humans, including the Colonel (Woody Harrelson,) a fanatical dictator with a serious God complex who brings to mind the phrase ‘There’s nothing more dangerous than a true believer.’

When Ceasar suffers devastating tragedy, he goes on a revenge quest accompanied by some of his followers and a few new editions, including a mute little girl named Nova (Amiah Miller, who is a joy to watch and holds enormous potential as a child actor) and a well-intentioned but simple-minded chimpanzee named ‘Bad Ape’ (Steve Zahn.) Through searching for the Colonel, Ceasar inadvertently puts the community he has created at risk, and he comes to unpleasant realizations about what mankind and human society has become while being haunted by memories of the traitor Koba (Toby Kebbell)

Along with making you care about the ape characters, War for the Planet of the Apes introduces a surprisingly disturbing and complex antagonist in the Colonel, played by the always-dynamic Woody Harrelson. I hated that motherfucker, I haven’t seen Harrelson play such a sick son of a bitch since Natural Born Killers, but he’s really good at it. Harrelson proves over and over that he has matured enormously as an actor since playing that goofy bartender on Cheers. He gives an intense, even chilling performance as a man utterly convinced that his vicious and destructive path is the right one.

The CGI in War for the Planet of the Apes in unparalleled, proving these things can be done well without becoming a gaudy detriment to the quality of the film, and the movie overall is harrowing and emotional, with memorable characters and rousing action sequences. One small criticism is that the film does get a little melodramatic and cheesy in the last scene, but otherwise, I don’t have a whole lot bad to say about this movie. I really liked some of the new characters, including Nova and Bad Ape, I was pleased to see my favorite characters from the last two movies return, and overall War for the Planet of the Apes was just a really entertaining film with a surprising amount of heft, which provides a startling level of humanity to the simian characters. If you liked the first two movies in the trilogy, I think you’ll really like this one as well. I was invested in the story and characters throughout, which is really one of  the best things you can say about any movie, regardless of genre. I whole-heartedly recommend this one, especially to those who liked the others and have some previous context involving Ceasar’s journey.

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