Movie Review

Directed by: Matt Reeves Written by: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves

Directed by Matt Reeves and written by Mark Bomback and Reeves, War for the Planet of the Apes is the much-awaited third installment in the critically acclaimed Planet of the Apes reboot. Based on novelist Pierre Boulle’s concept and characters created by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, the film follows the battle between humans and apes for the control of Earth.

War for the Planet of the Apes doesn’t lose a second to hesitation. Right from a somber 20th Century Fox theme to ominous drumbeats that accompany a text summary of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), War settles into its dark atmosphere so effortlessly that it fills cinema halls with a sense of uneasy excitement.

Two years after Koba’s (Toby Kebbell) betrayal, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is now grappling with the war he has been forced into. No longer safe in the Muir Woods, Caesar attempts to negotiate peace with the humans whilst repositioning his genetically enhanced ape clan across the desert. A well-paced, thoroughly absorbing sequence of events then ensues, bringing a natural continuity to not only Rise and Dawn, but also the 1968 original film. While Rise chronicled Caesar’s early years and Dawn shed light on his struggles with leadership, War focuses on the protagonist’s most harrowing journey yet as he comes face to face with the ruthless Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson).

Although Harrelson doesn’t have much screen-time in the first half, the smooth buildup to his eventual appearance triggers genuine outrage. Desperate to cement his place in history, the Colonel pursues his goals with pitiless resolve and pretensions towards godhood. Through Harrelson’s exceptional performance, this character is simultaneously terrifying and engaging, detestable and relatable.

Maurice (Karin Konoval), Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) and Rocket (Terry Notary) bring their fierce loyalty to the screen again, serving as essential pillars to Caesar’s sanity and the overarching narrative, while the gorilla Red (Ty Olsson), Koba’s former follower, is the secondary antagonist of the film.

Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape brings a humorous new element to the film, and while his inclusion could have proven risky, his comedic timing is spot-on. Also new to the franchise, Amiah Miller plays a kind, unworldly human girl who brings an open, guileless purity to the mix.

Still haunted by Koba’s ghost, Caesar is forced to choose between exacting vengeance and protecting his tribe, and it is this inner conflict that brings out the best of the character. The ape leader’s flaws are laid bare for all to see, making way for a touching commentary on the fragile nature of human savagery, speciesism, and uncorrupted innocence. Andy Serkis’ performance is brutal, meticulous and passionate, and it will be a shame if the Academy continues to overlook his outstanding motion-capture work.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a riveting film both through a viewer’s eyes and filmmaker’s lens. Cinematography (Michael Seresin) is stunning in its snow-caked brilliance, highlighting the apes’ struggle with gritty greys and frigid whites through long, wide takes. War features some jaw-dropping motion capture work (WETA Digital/Philip Boltt), and animators have not only surpassed the prequels but also radically raised the bar. Production design (James Chinlund; art director Maya Shimoguchi) is remarkable in its thoroughness, bringing forth some Biblical themes and disturbing Auschwitz elements, and makeup (Bev Wright) and costume design (Melissa Bruning) complement this perfectly. Editing (William Hoy; Stan Salfas) is seamless, and it is impossible to unearth any flaws with the film’s overall execution. Dialogue is poignant and sparing, making music an integral part of this film. Composer Michael Giacchino does not disappoint, taking moviegoers on a dynamic aural journey that is haunting, heartwarming, enigmatic and deftly produced.

Aside from being a technological marvel, the film is also a storytelling success. There is never a dull moment through its 140-minute narrative: every moment, movement and breath has been calculated and executed to serve a purpose.

Few trilogies can boast of more than one successful installment under its belt – it is usually the first that shines bright, followed by sequels that do little more than dawdle, flicker and die out – but the Planet of the Apes reboot smashes any preconceived notions and Hollywood stereotypes in its way. This third chapter is, in more ways than one, the best of the series.

While War’s setting and subject is bleak, its characters are so well fleshed-out that they burst with colour, bringing a raw emotional quality that makes one sympathise with the apes’ plight more so than ever before. It is one of those rare instances in which a well thought-out screenplay, flawless direction and incredible performances come together to create a cohesive cinematic sensation. No performance here is deficient or overplayed, and each character’s motivations are clear, emphatic and morally thoughtful. Reeves and Bomback’s moving screenplay achieves what great writing does best: it makes its characters suffer, walking the fine line between ‘blockbuster’ and ‘authentic’ with such finesse that one cannot help but be left in awe of its triumphs.

War for the Planet of the Apes paints a visceral portrait of survival, betrayal, vengeance and love, depicting traditionally human characteristics through the trials and tragedies of Caesar's clan. This film will break your heart, mend it, and shatter it again, leaving viewers aching for more of this soul-stirring masterpiece.

   Tina Mohandas

Tina Mohandas is a songwriter, musician, tattoo artist, vintage motorcycle collector, and animal rights activist. Currently writing her debut science fantasy novel, she is also the co-founder of the non-profit Bikerhood India initiative, and hopes one day to free every caged animal in the world.

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