In the reboot of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise, we’ve gone through two movies that depict the events leading to apes taking over the world. And in the third, “War for the Planet of the Apes” (opening in theaters Friday), we receive the most somber chapter yet.
With “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) has gone from a baby raised with love by humans, to the reluctant leader of an evolved ape army that is overpowering the human race (which is dwindling drastically thanks to a deadly flu). But for “War,” director Matt Reeves (who also directed “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) delivers a dark and powerful look at humanity’s last stand.
Reeves combines the feel of a war movie like “Apocalypse Now” or “Platoon” with the flashy special effects you find in most summer movies. This gives us a rare Hollywood blockbuster that is as deep in story as it is dazzling to watch.
If you don’t fully recall the previous two movies, it would probably be good to rewatch them, but it’s not required. “War” does well not leaning too heavily on characters and events that happened previously. The biggest thing to know is Caesar never wanted to fight the humans, but he’s been given no other choice.
In “War,” the apes have buried themselves deep in the forests near San Francisco trying to stay clear of any humans. But an elite special forces team, led by “The Colonel” (Woody Harrelson), is driven to find them and take out the mythical Caesar, who they haven’t heard from or seen in years.
The movie opens with an incredibly tense attack by the humans on a group of Caesar’s apes. When the humans look to have the upper hand, Caesar and his reinforcements appear on horseback and take back their turf. Those captured by Caesar’s apes, including an ape who is a scout for the The Colonel’s platoon (referred to as “Donkey”), are all set free. Caesar tells them to send a message back to The Colonel that they won’t kill humans if they agree to no longer come after them. But The Colonel doesn’t care for the message.
Later that evening, The Colonel and his men come back to finish the job, and in doing so kill Caesar’s wife and son. Caesar vows revenge, and leaves the other apes behind to go in search of The Colonel. His trusty friends Maurice, Luca, and Rocket come along.
The new “Apes” movies have always been about Caesar’s journey, but this one really drives home his internal conflict. He’s forced to kill men and apes, leading to him finding more pain than satisfaction following the death of his own family. And just like the previous two, Andy Serkis delivers a powerful performance that’s as heart-wrenching and complex as any performance by a human character you’ll see this year.
“War” also introduces us to some new characters. A young girl Caesar and his team come across named Nova (she goes on to become the woman who befriends Charlton Heston’s George Taylor in 1968’s “Planet of the Apes”), and another talking ape known as “Bad Ape” (played by Steve Zahn). Both will certainly become a bigger part of the movies going forward.
The studio behind the “Apes” movies, 20th Century Fox, looks to be building a niche of blockbusters geared towards those who are searching for more mature stories. With “Deadpool,” “Logan,” and now “War for the Planet of the Apes,” it’s fun to see what else they have in store, as audiences certainly seem to be into it.
And with “War” expected to make some strong box office returns, more “Apes” movies are certain to be on the horizon. The big question is with Reeves moving over to direct the upcoming standalone “Batman” movie, starring Ben Affleck as The Dark Knight, can Fox keep him at the helm?
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