The Planet Apes franchise can be briefly glimpsed as Ape-ocalypse Now. The comparison isn’t entirely off. There is a shaven-headed military renegade leader having a terrible moment of clarity about the human condition, and their command is about to be terminated with extreme prejudice. However, in fact, this latest exciting and impressive episode in the Planet Apes franchise is closer in many ways to old-school war movies and POW dramas like The Great Escape or Bridge on the River Kwai.
War for the Planet of the Apes movie, directed and co-written by Matt Reeves, delivers its stories with conviction and intensity. It is utterly confident in its own created world, and in the plausibility of its ape characters, they are presented quite unselfconsciously and persuasively. War for the Planet of the Apes full movie isn’t afraid to place its center of narrative gravity within this simian world,and does not feel the need to balance them all the time with humans. It has sweep fervent ambition with some great action and combat sequences, sparse but nicely judged touches of humor and of long dialogue scenes and character confrontation. In moments of crisis, there are some compellingly strange extreme close-ups on faces.
Part of the movie’s potency derives from the figure of the ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis). He is a grizzled old soldier whose mouth is always turned into a severe scowl of authority. Reeves gives him a classic travelling-shot moment from his point-of-view: the general walking through his encampment and the soldiers under his command instinctively rising and backing away in respect.
The situation is that humans and apes are now in open conflict. Caesar leads an ape community in a fortified forest from where he is about to retreat to a rumored promised land of a paradisiac valley with abundant food and water supply. He sees off an attack from humans, who have as servants certain quisling apes, former followers of Caesar’s traitorous ex-comrade Koba (Toby Kebbell). In a meanwhile, the humans deeply divided about how to handle a growing virus that gives apes the power of speech. They dismiss Caesar’s offer of a peaceful deal and launch grotesquely violent attack, masterminded by the sinister Colonel (Woody Harrelson). His initial face-off with Caesar is edge-of-the-seat stuff. From there on, Caesar is on a rescue and revenge mission.
War for the Planet of the Apes movie has its own sense of purpose. War for the Planet of the Apes does not get distracted with tricky or self-aware Statue of Liberty moments, either ones of their own or variations on the original, and of course this is partly because of the franchise’s prequel status. Still, it is also clearly a larger decision to frame the movies with clarity and directness, without huge cosmic ironies. It’s an engrossing, forthright adventure.