‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ SPOILERS: Powerful Perfection

War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes SPOILERS: Powerful Perfection

 War for the Planet of the Apes Spoilers below!

War for The Planet of the Apes has been my most anticipated movie of the year since 2014. The prequel Ape’s franchise holds a special place in my heart. No one expected the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes to be any good, especially in a prequel/sequel era that has taken up a vast majority of most studio blockbusters to date. Luckily, not only was Rise a great film, it was a fantastic one. This was due, in large part, to focus on the character of Caesar, played by the brilliantly dedicated Andy Serkis.

When the inevitable sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, (this time directed by Matt Reeves), came out it improved on every aspect of the first film. Phenomenal character development, with Caesar and his family, the atmosphere in which these genetically evolved apes lived and learned human characteristics, and emotions were all fascinating, making it not only a substantially better film than the first one but also disguising a compelling drama into a summer blockbuster.

Needless to say, my expectations for the final chapter in Caesar’s story were unapologetically through the roof. War for the Planet of the Apes is the culmination of what the previous two entries have led to, the apes “winning” the war and inhabiting the earth and Caesar’s story come to a proper end. Did this final entry meet my unrealistic expectations? Let’s find out!

In case you didn’t remember, SPOILER WARNING! 

War for the Planet of the Apes is not only the best film of the year, but it also concludes a now perfect trilogy. Yes, I said perfect trilogy. What Matt Reeves has constructed with War is nothing short of breathtaking, focusing once again on the character of Caesar, with the human and ape conflict as a backdrop to a more grounded story.

The film opens up with some text that recaps both Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and the status in which the world is now, after the events of said films. Caesar (Andy Serkis) is older, more seasoned, and world-weary since we last saw him. Caesar still doesn’t want war, and will only fight to protect apes, especially his wife and two children.

At the end of Dawn, a distress call was made to a military base before the climactic battle between Koba and Caesar. We pick up sometime after those events, with a Saving Private Ryan-Esq war scene. Arrows are being shot, guns are being fired, and both apes and humans are dying brutally. This sequence results in around 60 apes dying, which falls on Caesar, even though he did not start this war. That, of course, would be Koba (Toby Kebbell), who still haunts Caesar to this day.

War for the Planet of the Apes

Caesar wants his family and species to live freely in the woods and offers the humans an end to the war if they accept. I’m pretty sure you can guess the response of The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and the rest of his military fleet. Caesar knows he must find somewhere to live with his kind outside of the woods, where the humans are currently tracking them.

What’s most evident, right as War for the Planet of the Apes starts, is the wonderfully realized aging of Caesar and his fellow apes. His hair is gray, with facial expressions similar to those who’ve lost so much in their lives. It’s no mistake that Andy Serkis is the master of motion-capture, with this film being his most involved and hyper-realistic to date.

I’ve said this about the previous two films, and I’ll say it again: I never once saw a CGI monkey, or a non-human character, I see Caesar, with all of the unique mannerisms and facial expressions that Serkis so brilliantly portrays. He also speaks nearly fluent English now, while also not sounding “too human,” as the apes do in the 1968 Charlton Heston classic.

War for the Planet of the Apes looks astounding, with utterly jaw-dropping cinematography from Michael Seresin. Shots of the apes riding through the snow, in particular, are breathtaking to witness. In fact, the entire movie looks incredible, no matter how dark and dreary the events and aesthetics may be at particular points. In other big franchise blockbusters, this may come off as unpleasant. However, the tone of War fits the aesthetic nature of the storytelling perfectly; it would be hard to argue otherwise.

As the story moves forward, The Colonel takes more aggressive action on Caesar’s apes, resulting in the murder of Caesar’s wife and eldest son. The moment that he finds his son and wife lying there on the floor lifeless is poignant and quiet, as our focus remains on Caesar’s reaction to the situation, rather than dwelling on the murder itself. This is the turning point for our main hero. We have yet to see this leader so vulnerable to the point of anger, where sadness and hopelessness seem as if they are now a part of Caesar’s past. He is now outraged, full of rage and vengeance toward this particular group of humans.

This is when Caesar leaves his youngest son, Cornelious, with Lake, in an emotional goodbye that had my eyes filled to the brim with tears. “I may not make it back,” he tells Lake, while his son is crying, “Father,” over and over again. Like I said, I was a mess.

War for the Planet of the Apes

Once Caesar sets the rest of his apes on a course to a safer place, (a desert where no humans are to be seen) himself, Maurice, Rocket, and a mute child named Nova set out on their quest to declare war on the military base. Nova is the mute woman from the original film whom Charlton Heston takes with him as the apes let him, which is a nice little connection to the original. Another great link is how the Simian Flu eventually causes humans to lose the sense of speech. None of the humans who lived on the planet spoke, and to see how this pandemic gradually took over the human race was a small, yet genius, move on Matt Reeve’s part.

When Caesar is captured by The Colonel and speaks to him privately, he reveals how he shot his son in the face after he lost the ability to speak. This not only makes Harrelson’s Colonel that more menacing, but it also shows how much humanity is left in our terribly flawed species.

Before Caesar’s arrival at the military-base-turned-concentration-camp, himself and the rest of his team run into an ape only referred to as “Bad Ape.” He’s a cute, harmless little guy who runs from the humans. His English is excellent, and he speaks fluently. It’s soon revealed that Bad Ape lived in a zoo when the virus started spreading and he was the sole survivor of an attack. He knows where this military camp is but is scared to return because he had taken a food source from there to survive.

War for the Planet of the Apes

Bad Ape is an excellent character, adding some much-needed humor to an overall dark story. His lines are never forced, he is as genuine as he is naive and will win the hearts of many watching this story unfold. He even wears human clothing and puts on a hat, jacket, and boots as he reluctantly decides to help Caesar.

In one of the more quiet moments of the movie, we are treated to a few classic conversations between Caesar and his trusted best friend, Maurice. Caesar is still filled with vengeance, while Maurice is attempting to bring Caesar back down from his ongoing temper. In a moment of sheer brilliance, Caesar explains to Maurice that this isn’t about killing or war anymore. He’s a husband and father seeking vengeance for the murder of his wife and son.

Moments like this are what separates this franchise from the rest, in having genuine human moments among these characters that add levity and emotion to the ongoing stories we have followed for years now.

When Caesar finally enters the military base, he sees a horrific image that remains clear in my mind as of this writing. Several apes are tied and nailed to trees and poles as if they are being crucified. Apes being held nearby in cages, with no food or water, like slaves and being treated like pure scum. Caesar is captured upon arrival, and is tortured in the same way, tied up to a tree in the cold, having water poured on him by an ape working for The Colonel simply named, “Donkey.”

At this point, War for the Planet of the Apes becomes a much different film than advertised. This is now a story of survival, and a completion of the circle, not of how the apes won the way, but of how Caesar became a legend.

Caesar is tortured, whipped, and pushed to the point of death before he can convince The Colonel to give food and water to the other apes. It turns out that the apes are being forced to build a wall (yes a wall) to keep their kind out. What I love most about the final act of the film is the ongoing conversations between Caesar and The Colonel.

Both Andy Serkis and Woody Harelson bring their all to the table, acting off each other brilliantly as two species with different ideologies conversing about the future. The scenes are emotional and gut-wrenching, staying with you long after the credits role. Again, the fact that this is a “summer blockbuster” is absurd, it is a character-driven drama about family and survival.

Both Andy Serkis and Woody Harelson bring their all to the table, acting off each other brilliantly as two species with different ideologies conversing about the future. The scenes are emotional and gut-wrenching, staying with you long after the credits role. Again, the fact that this is a “summer blockbuster” is absurd, it is a character-driven drama about family and survival.

Things take a turn for the worst when The Colonel says to Caesar, “I’m glad I killed your wife and family, even though I didn’t mean to.” Wow. Just freaking wow. Caesar’s face drops down to a halt, filled with shock and depression before the anger takes him over. His nightmares about Koba continue, where the ghost of his former friend tells him to join Koba because he is just like him now. It’s not until Nova finds Caesar, walks into the war zone to give him her doll, some food, and water when Caesar finally has the mental and physical strength to break out of the cage and set his kind free.

War for the Planet of the Apes

Arrows, bombs, grenades are being thrown, and guns are firing everywhere. It’s an all-out massacre between the two species, and nothing is more satisfying than the final confrontation between Caesar and The Colonel. He wakes the Colonel up from a dead sleep, with a gun pointed to his head. Guess what? He can’t speak, the virus has taken away his sense of speech, and he shoots himself in the head point blank, as Caesar watches. The battle doesn’t go on for long, which I appreciated. I did not want some over-the-top and overlong action set piece to take the perfectly somber tone away from the film; it’s quite the opposite.

Caesar is shot in the side of his chest with an arrow, as he throws a set of grenades toward a base with guns and ammo inside. This results in an avalanche killing a majority of the humans, and the war has ended. Simple, realistic, and poetic. Caesar leads the rest of his apes to the haven, where his son Cornelius is waiting for him. The apes are reunited and living happily, as Caesar has fulfilled his destiny to have his kind live in peace.

Then, it happens, you know what I am talking about. Caesar dies. I am crying just typing the words, let alone experiencing it for the first time in the cinema. It’s a pure death, a quiet one, one from a wound that made him die slowly, yet peacefully. He lays down, smiling, as all of the other apes begin to walk toward him, and the story of Caesar will always be remembered as the legend who saved his species. It’s an undeniably powerful and moving scene, in one of the perfect trilogies in cinema history.

War for the Planet of the Apes takes every aspect of the films preceding it and improves on it in every way possible. The characters are fully realized, with a protagonist that you’ve been following from birth to death. How often does something like this happen in “action movies,” especially in this day and age where as soon as a film doesn’t make its box office numbers back, it’s tossed to the side like a broken down car? The story was never about the rise, dawn, or war of the apes; it was about Caesar.

It was about the evolution of a smarter species than humans, and how our natural instincts would be to use violence in an attempt to eliminate the problem, rather than find a rational way to live with it. The acting is top-notch, with Andy Serkis gives his third Oscar-worthy performance as the character that he’s made his own and that has taken the hearts of millions around the world, Caesar.

War for the Planet of the Apes opens on July 14th, 2017



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