The third installment of the Planet of the Apes reboot series does something so simple but so rare in blockbusters these days. It tells a story to its end. No loose ends, no post credit sequel teases, we’re given a story that is saw through to its conclusion. And what a conclusion. The new Apes trilogy has surprised everyone by being pretty damn good. I confess to being blown away by 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and while War doesn’t quite reach those heights, it is still the most essential blockbuster of the summer.
Recap: most of the humans on Earth have been wiped out by a manmade virus and those that remain have launched an all-out war on the now extremely intelligent apes. Caesar is the honourable but burdened leader of the simians, performed brilliantly once again by motion capture legend Andy Serkis. On a purely technical level, he and his ape compatriots are incredible. They are integrated seamlessly with live-action with rich detail to their facial expressions and movements. The entire trilogy is a testament to how special CGI can really be when it is given enough care, attention and respect. It’ll ruin you for all the other effects extravaganzas vying for your attention.
Caesar wants to negotiate peace with the humans but he underestimates the ruthlessness of his counterpart The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and his loyal army. Unrelentingly cruel, he believes human/ape co-existence to be impossible, with nature demanding that one dominate the other. This necessitates this “holy war”, to use his own words. Harrelson is clearly channelling Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now and the film is not coy about its influences. Several shots are set up to evoke Coppolla’s masterpiece but if you’d like something a little less subtle, a piece of graffiti literally reads ‘Ape-ocalypse Now’.
After an attack on Caesar’s home, he suffers a grievous personal loss. Driven by revenge, he sets out in pursuit of The Colonel’s base. He’s joined by returning faces including Maurice the orangutan, arguably the heart of the trilogy. A few new allies also joins the fray. One is a mute young girl who is one big Easter egg for series vets. The other is Bad Ape. He mainly functions as comic relief, deflating the tension when things get a little too bleak. And they do get bleak.
The film doesn’t pull any punches in its themes of revenge and extinction. Whoever wins, the outlook isn’t good for the other. Since we all know how the Planet of the Apes eventually ends up, we sympathise with the humans to an extent. After all, they’re not wrong for wanting to save their species. And yet, this is very much a movie about the apes. Their struggles, their triumphs, their failures. So many movies pit humans against a non-human threat, be it aliens, zombies, ghosts, what have you. War is the rare occasion where you will root for your fellow humans to not just lose but go completely extinct. The power of cinema, I guess.
War For the Planet of the Apes is on general release now