'War For The Planet Of The Apes' Brings Trilogy To Strong Finish
Andy Serkis' Caesar anchors film with great humanity
“Planet of the Apes” (1968)
“Beneath the Planet of the Apes” (1970)
“Escape From the Planet of the Apes” (1971)
“Conquest for the Planet of the Apes” (1972)
“Battle for the Planet of the Apes” (1973)
“War for the Planet of the Apes” (opening July 14) is the third film in the re-booted “Apes” franchise, and it brings Caesar’s saga to a fitting close.
When the original “Planet of the Apes” film opened in 1968, it showcased state of the art makeup effects for the intelligent talking primates played by Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter. Now almost a half-century later, “War for the Planet of the Apes” dazzles with state-of-the-art computer-generated effects that make Andy Serkis completely convincing as the ape leader Caesar.
The 1968 film was a huge success and garnered an Honorary Oscar for its make up effects. It spawned four sequels and a TV series (and a remake that we do not mention) before being smartly rebooted in 2011 as a kind of prequel trilogy, which began with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and continued with “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Both of those films played cleverly off the original film, tying in just enough to satisfy fans of the 1968 movie but not overly so.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” arrives to bring the story of Caesar to a close with a dark, engrossing tale that provides the trilogy with a strong finish. So to recap, “Rise” set the story in motion by looking to scientists who develop a substance to help the brain repair itself. It had the unintended side effect of giving rise to a super-intelligent chimpanzee named Caesar (Andy Serkis), who leads a primate rebellion against the humans. Then “Dawn” follows Caesar as he leads a growing and sometimes divisive nation of genetically evolved apes, as they try to navigate a world devastated by the virus unleashed by the medical company that had been experimenting on Caesar with the drugs. Caesar tries to create a community of apes apart from the humans but of course the two worlds collide. And that collision explodes into all out war in the third film.
Caesar tries to keep the apes separate and safe but a man known as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) leads a human army to destroy them. Caesar makes some bad tactical decisions and ends up with a mute young girl named Nova (that will mean something to anyone who remembers the 1968 film) and a comic relief primate known only as Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). There are references to “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” as well as to “Apocalypse Now” as Caesar and the Colonel head to a showdown.
The new “Apes” trilogy - with effects work from New Zealand’s Weta Workshop and Weta Digital - has been a testament to what CGI can accomplish when used in service of a story and not merely as eye candy. The “Apes” films, especially through Serkis’ Caesar, make you forget how much of what you are seeing is effects work. Serkis and the effects team give us a character that is thoroughly engaging and who moves us deeply. It’s ironic because when Serkis acts a human (in films like “King Kong”) he tends to be hammy and over the top. But it’s those very qualities of over-emoting that seem to make him well suited to the motion capture, CGI-created characters of Gollum (in the “Lord of the Rings” film) and now Caesar.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” has some flaws. Bad Ape comes across as too much comic relief, which contrasts sharply with the dark, serious tone of the rest of the film. It’s a bit too much of a contrast and they could have dialed it back a little. The same goes for Harrelson’s Colonel. He’s a bit too cartoonish. The apes seem more human than the humans and more nuanced, and maybe that’s part of the film’s point. But again, his performance could have been made a little subtler for the betterment of the overall film.
Additionally, after doing so much so brilliantly in terms of effects, the film falters in the final act by adding an avalanche as a major plot point. And the avalanche reminds us of how cheesy CGI effects can still look when they seem to ignore physics.
But any flaws found in “War for the Planet of the Apes” (rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images) are offset by Serkis’ Caesar. He anchors the film with a humanity and genuine emotion that is all too rare in films with no CGI characters.