It’s rare that the sequel of a remake of a franchise that started in the 60’s could be considered as one of the year’s best films, but writer/director Matt Reeves has done just that with the emotionally charged “War for the Planet of the Apes.”
Five years after the climactic battle in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is still haunted by the death of the hateful ape Koba (Toby Kebbell). Caesar’s efforts to build a peaceful society of simians have been sidelined and now they are in a constant battle against a rogue group of human militants. This militia is run by a man known only as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and although his motives remain unclear for most of the movie, his prime directive is clear: Kill Caesar.
Without giving away too much of the plot, events transpire the give the film a “road movie” structure for the second act, and then a “prison break” structure for the third. Few films work well with such different structures stitched together to form the narrative, but Reeves masterfully weaves them together. Through the middle of the story arc it becomes a much smaller film, focusing on just a handful of characters and the conflicting morality that Caesar is battling. Vengeance always tastes better, but will rot your soul. Pity and Forgiveness are better for the soul, but may leave others lives in danger. Which path will Caesar choose, and what will the price be? The final third of the film returns to the epic scale of its predecessors as The Colonel and Caesar face off in a duel of Desperation and Self-Righteousness. Both want the other dead, but both realize that a martyr can be more dangerous than a leader.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” is a rare gem where absolutely every element works together like a precision watch. The visuals are striking and iconic from the very start and contain a certain beauty even in midst of cruel violence. The CGI work is some of the very best ever seen on screen. Often, a suspension of disbelief is required for films the rely so heavily on FX, but with “War” the opposite is true. You’ll have to remind yourself that what you are seeing isn’t real. The motion-capture, computer generated characters, and performances are so outstanding that instead of distracting from the story they truly enhance it. If ever there was an argument for Andy Serkis deserving an Oscar, this is it. The script is equally brilliant delivering a surprisingly emotionally charged story, even if it does lean a bit too heavily on the Biblical tale of Moses taking the Israelites to the promised land.