Film Review: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Astonishes In Its Devastating Finale


Entrenched in a web of visual astonishment and relentless emotion, Matt Reeves‘ cap to the “Planet of the Apes” prequel trilogy aptly titled “War for the Planet of the Apes” is one of the year’s most fiercely moving portraits.  Enamored by its intimate framing of our beloved and tortured ape characters, most notably Caesar, the film is simply riveting and utterly entertaining.  It’s a gorgeous film that has capped this trilogy to become a classic with its beautiful interpretation of the human condition as seen through the eyes of a different species and has genuine emotive power to make the manliest man weep.

The film tells the story of Caesar and his population of apes, who suffer unimaginable losses triggered by the events of the previous film (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes“).  As Caesar (played by Andy Serkis) battles with his darker instincts, he begins his own quest to avenge his kind against the relentless humans led by the treacherous Colonel (played exquisitely by Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson).

War for the Planet of the Apes” is anchored by, which has been the case for the entire series, the dedicated work of Andy Serkis.  A sentence that’s been written too often over the past six years, this is a case that warrants a “Special Oscar.” While I’ve championed a new “hybrid” or “motion capture” category to be instituted, Serkis’ work is worthy of enough to be considered among the best lead performances delivered this year.  Someone who has been as devoted to the motion capture medium as we’ve witnessed for the past fifteen years, deserves his day in the spotlight.  Caesar is a fully fleshed out character and entirely tangible thanks to Serkis’ distinguished portrayal.

With the theme of “war” being apparent in every single instance and frame, co-writers Mark Bomback and Reeves drive the story by its emotional core.  They conceive fully remarkable players like the ever-loving Maurice (played by Karin Konoval) and the perfectly loyal Rocket (played by Terry Notary).  The duo manage to build conflict with little words and damn near spot on direction.  While the praise is high for its story, the strange insertion of “Bad Ape” (played by Steve Zahn), at times, borders on a Jar-Jar Binks-type misfire.  The film is unrelenting in its devastation and loss, it seems as if they felt forced or compelled to embed some comic relief.  Here’s a PSA to all future franchise helmers: it’s okay to have devastation run full through your films without garnering a chuckle from your audience.

As can be expected, the film is a technical marvel.  Composer Michael Giacchino delivers his finest composition since “Up,” for which he won the Oscar.  His work on “War” should put him firmly in the running once again.  Cinematographer Michael Seresin has been ignored for far too long over his illustrious career.  With career highlights that include “Angela’s Ashes,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the DP has yet to find traction from both the Academy and ASC (American Society of Cinematographers).  It’s about time we give this 74-year-old veteran his notoriety.

The film’s production team is top-notch once again as Amanda Moss Serino‘s set decoration with James Chinlund‘s production design equate to a ravaged and palpable world.  Co-editors William Hoy and Stan Salfas assemble a bleak and grim tale, but one or two miscues, including a missed opportunity for an all-time final shot, ultimately keeps the film firmly afloat.

If you have your drums near by, you know, the drum you use to bang for a certain film or performance when it comes to awards season, then grab it quick.  We’ve watched two Oscar ceremonies come and go with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” lose to “Hugo and “Interstellar” respectively.  It’s now time that “War for the Planet of the Apes” sits on the top of the throne of visual achievements of the year and gets its proper time in the limelight.  It’s something the cinematic world has earned and deserved.

A monumental achievement, “War for the Planet of the Apes” stands near the top of the best films seen this year yet.  A tear-jerker that is emotionally resonate and that is an experience to remember.  Oscars…your move.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is distributed 20th Century Fox and opens in theaters on July 14.

GRADE: (★★★½)