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The third installment of the Planet of the Apes franchise was a war drama inspired by The Thin Red Line. War for the Planet of the Apes movie opens with a sequence of monkeys wielding machine gun. That scene is a gruelingly tense blueprint for what’s to come: a riveting blockbuster canon packing enough heft to satisfy your film-watching needs for the remainder of the year.
The tense tracking shots interspersed with static point-of-view sets the scene more than any line of dialogue could. It had been two years from events in Dawn of the Planet Apes full movie and the battle between humans and apes, fuelled by the traitorous Koba (Toby Kebbell), has rendered the world a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
If it weren’t for the machine-gun-wielding monkey astride a steed in the opening scene, you’d be mistaken for thinking
Primate protagonist Caesar (Andy Serkis) is intent on protecting his species with as little bloodshed as possible. As the grizzled warrior, Caesar tells the soldiers baying for his species’ blood that his species didn’t start the war. Then, he has an encounter with Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) propelling him on his own destructive journey.
Under the guidance of director Matt Reeves, uninterested in dancing to anybody’s tune but its own, the movie unfurls at its own pace from the first second, and that’s rare for a movie of this stature. Sharing a writing credit with Mark Bomback, Reeves oversees the movie with assured precision wasting zero shots in the process. Reeves is far more interested in capturing a character’s attempt to escape an oncoming danger. In shunning the grandiose, this movie reaps dividends.
The rebooted Apes franchise has never been concerned with spelling out whose side the audience should fall down on, but the hints are there to take. “Monkey killer” can be seen scrawled on a nondescript soldier’s helmet as “There’s no good Kong except a dead Kong”, while “Ape-ocalypse Now” hammers home one of the movie’s obvious inspirations if Harrelson’s despot Colonel hadn’t already.
It’s the subtle expansion of the world that makes War for the Planet of the Apes movie feel a cut above the rest. Its old-school sensibility means events rarely stray from Caesar, orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) and new addition Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) as a gawky chimp providing a necessary reprieve to the gloom. Every extraneous character remains faceless as the movie remaining anchored to the small-scale story it’s telling.