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The highly-anticipated third act of the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, director Matt Reeves returns from his success after being brought on for the same role in the second installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. A franchise which traces its origins to the novel, La Planète des Singes (translated to Planet of the Apes), by French author Pierre Boulles, the Planet of the Apes, has experienced its most successful stretch of movies in its history. Having been a fan of the first two installments of the reboot franchise, I came into the movie with fairly high expectations, and left — for the most part — satisfied.
For the uninitiated, the Apes (note: will refer to the franchise as this from now on) premise is that apes of all kinds around the world have gained a heightened level of intelligence due to the spread of an Alzheimer’s cure gone bad, which has turned into what is known as the “Simian Flu”. Humans have had a fairly negative effect from the virus — death. Heading into War (shortening this too for convenience sake), we find that the humans have decreased even more in number, and are shown as a military faction Alpha-Omega, lead by the mysterious Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The main protagonist of the trilogy, the chimpanzee leader Caesar (Andy Serkis), is joined by the clan of sentient apes he leads, as well as returning characters such as Rocket (chimpanzee) and Maurice (Bornean orangutan). The movie follows Caesar’s journey that hopefully bring two main goals: closure and survival.
As with the previous two installments of the rebooted franchise, War boasts of absolutely incredible CGI and visuals. The movie takes place in wilderness of northern California — Muir Woods to be exact — amidst a very snowy winter. With a movie like Apes, where the movie centers around sentient primates, one would have to assume that the actual apes would not be simply actors in mere costumes, but enhanced with the technology of CGI. The closeups of the faces of characters such as Caesar and Maurice are able to show the subtle changes of emotion where — for lack of a better word — they are certainly “humanlike”. It’s absolutely incredible where cinematic technology has gone, and this movie is the most recent poster child of said technology. The part I was the most blown away was that at times, I felt that Maurice — a completely computer-generated character — felt more realistic than Serkis as Caesar. That’s how amazing the CGI was for this film.
Speaking of Serkis, ever since his performance as Gollum/Smeagol in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it seems that his main calling card has been these CGI roles — one that he does not seem to get enough credit for. Serkis again delivers a masterful performance, further showing that CGI’d (if that is even a word…it is now) actors have as much impact on movies as regular actors. Even as Caesar, who at this point can speak English in full sentences, the list of lines pales in comparison in terms of pure volume as that of a traditional role. But Serkis shows that less is more, and is able to show a leader who is constantly haunted by his checkered past, but still has to maintain an air of confidence as the undisputed and beloved leader of his species.
War brings the “quality over quantity” aspect of screenplay to the table, as the few lines that are uttered by Caesar or acted out via sign language from one of his cohorts still have hard-hitting impact. With the least amount of humans on-screen, despite having the least amount of dialogue of the trilogy by far, it holds up as the most thought-provoking.
This all goes to say that this film definitely has its own flaws that keep it from becoming an absolute masterpiece. Because of the sparse dialogue and frequent subtitle-aided sign language, a more casual viewer is likely to miss certain lines communicated between the apes, as well as the pure facial expressions. The lack of lines places heavy emphasis on the actions of the characters, which does have an effect of drawing out certain sections of the movie. The film ended in a fairly abrupt and convenient manner, which is always a disappointing result to have after such beautiful build-up to the climax.
Ultimately, I had a great time watching this — especially having invested time in the two previous installments — and would ultimately recommend this to others who have done the same. Some of the best CGI I have ever seen on the big screen, with some of the best lines and moments of the film delivered without a single word being spoken.
I give War for the Planet of the Apes an 8.5/10.