When author Pierre Boulle first penned the novel “The Planet of the Apes” in 1963 he couldn’t have imagined that his original story would be the basis for one of cinema’s most popular science fiction franchises. Now over 50 years later that franchise and its many installments continue to captivate us. With a rebooted trilogy that began with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), and was complimented with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), now comes the epic and moving concluding chapter in War for the Planet of the Apes. It’s a film which is easily one of this year’s very best, a fitting end for this fantastic rebooted series, and like its predecessors a smart and refreshing change to the summer blockbuster.
Set some time after the events of 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the global population has continued to fall victim to the Simian Flu, an artificially created virus also responsible for the evolution of apes into sentient intelligent beings. An inevitable war between the apes and the surviving humans has thus escalated, ravaging both sides. Under the leadership of Caesar, the apes make it clear that they want to avert war but will fight to protect their way of life. And so either the humans abandon hope for a comeback or continue the war with the Apes with the uncertain hopes of quashing the primate dominion.
While it may seem that this is merely a film about monkeys on horseback fighting humans, it’s a movie that doesn’t build itself solely on its thrilling visual effects, but uses them as a compliment to genuine pathos and a thought provoking narrative.
Unlike other blockbusters like Transformers which offer little in terms of story development and much in prolonged mindless action sequences, War for the Planet of the Apes (much like its prequels) melds wondrous special effects with a story and characters that are both inventive and affectingly moving. Mark Bomback’s and Matt Reeves’ screenplay is brilliant and thoroughly engaging; concerns over the departure of original screenwriters Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa have been quelled with this strong continuation of their original scripts.
Including such themes as loyalty, compassion and the morality and consequences of war, the film is more than just a traditional summer blockbuster, but an all around intelligent movie. We’re asked many questions, among them ‘How accepting should we be of others because of differences?’, ‘What emotion will ultimately define us, love or hate?’ and ‘Can war ever be justified?’ Both the humans and the apes consider the other as savage, but the realization soon emerges that in times of barbarity and war there’s no distinction between them.
Topping all of this are the strong visual effects, highlighted by the masterful use of motion capture technology to bring Caesar and the other array of apes to striking realism. The apes in this film are not simply the titular leads but are complex and profound beings that with the aid of a great technology have never looked better on screen.
Andy Serkis, who brilliantly breathes life into his portrayal of Caesar, proves once again why he is the master of an art form once considered ‘fake acting’. With Caesar he merges both primate and sentient man into one creature, creating a character that is quite unforgettable. Just as silent film star Lon Chaney is considered one of the pioneers of his era and craft, Serkis is most definitely the Lon Chaney of his time. While many actors will attest that they do not perform to win awards, it would be a continued shame to see Serkis not recognized with an official award for his groundbreaking work.
War for the Planet of the Apes is both a thrilling and wonderfully astute film that serves as a rightful crown and concluding episode for this equally impressive new series. In a world of chaos, the remedies will always be the same: love and compassion. This new Apes series has succeeded in spectacular fashion in entertaining, moving and thrilling audiences. With its combination of state of the art special effects and its poignant and emotional storyline, it stands as an energizing deviation from the blockbuster norm and an excellent installment in a much-loved franchise.
It’s not just science fiction but a compelling moral tale, Pierre Boulle would most definitely be proud.