War for the Planet of the Apes is a movie embracing the first word of its title. Opening with soldiers in a lush green forest with nicknames on their helmets, marching toward the enemy through the brush in a style, the movie reminds me of Platoon. In 2 hours watching the movie, other war films will flash through your mind.
So why turn a franchise about sentient apes into a war movie that echoes the stories of Vietnam? What can be gained from looking at the darkest side of humanity through the lens of a summer blockbuster? The answer is quite a lot.
There is no problem to call Matt Reeves’s War for the Planet of the Apes an intimate, epic adventure and one of the best movies of the summer. If you wonder why, I’ll tell you.
First of all, we praise the landmark performance of Andy Serkis as ape-leader Caesar. The British actor has made Caesar an epic character since Rise of the Planet of the Apes (directed by Rupert Wyatt in 2011) and keep up his perfect work in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (directed by Reeves in 2014).
In the third movie of the trilogy, he plays the charismatic chimp – a born leader of monkeys – again with a resonant power and depth of feeling that’s nearly Shakespearean. Serkis deserves the gold of Oscar for playing Caesar, and I ensure you that he’s that good. However, Academy deadheads of Oscar still keep their conservative thought that motion-capture performance is not truly acting refused to give Serkis what he’s deserved.
To be honest, the visual effects are in fact digital makeup. Serkis is on set with the other performers; it’s his voice, facial expressions, body language and emotional heat that the camera captures. Back to our story of how great War for the Planet of the Apes is, it can’t be denied that Serkis tops himself, bringing the character to fresh heights of ferocity and feeling, as well as ending the new Apes trilogy on a note of indelible triumph.
Next, I have to say that War for the Planet of the Apes has the best plot among Apes movies since the original made in 1968. Charlton Heston memorably hating on the “damn, dirty apes” who dared to lay a hand on him. In the nearly half-century since Charlton Heston memorably hating on the “dirty apes”, our loyalties have shifted from man to monkey. In the movie, as the war kicks off, humans have been decimated by a virus and apes have grown more intelligent and vocal.
Caesar and his tribe want to live in peace with what’s left of humanity, but there’s vengeance in the air. Colonel (Woody Harrelson), the worst combination you can ever imagine between Kurtz in Apocalypse Now and Donald Trump, is hell-bent on ape genocide.
That’s the conflict cooked up by Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback. It serves the movie so well even when the director lets thematic heaviness slow down the narrative momentum. Much-needed humor comes with the monkeyshines of Bad Ape, a new character played by a terrific Steve Zahn. In the movie, everyone is propelled by conflicts and fight, even the peace love Caesar. While the Colonel has forcibly recruited his own army of simian soldiers to deploy an attack, Casear and his orangutan second-in-command Maurice (Karin Konoval) plan an exodus that will allow the tribe to escape. But thing turn 180o when Colonel decides to attack Caesar’s family, revenge becomes the chief motivator.
Not only is the plot great but also the cinematography. The action sequences, including a prison break, are thunderously exciting, driven by Michael Seresin’s vibrant camerawork and Michael Giacchino’s robust score. Reeves achieves visual wonders even in the stillness before all hell breaks loose.