War for the Planet of the Apes Review
The recent prequel series to the original Planet of the Apes franchise continues with its third installment, War for the Planet of the Apes, in which we see The Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson, commanding a brutal regiment of soldiers to fight the apes who are led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) as the apes try to find shelter and preserve themselves from annihilation. This film continues the tradition of groundbreaking motion capture and captivating storytelling in the series while also tying into the original 1968 film flawlessly.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves returns for War, and it is most certainly a welcome return, as his use of dark imagery and serious tone helps make the film feel more grounded and powerful. Most of the first half of the story focuses on the apes and their struggle for survival and refuses to pull any of punches, especially during the opening battle between the apes and humans. Following the initial battle, The Colonel leads a night operation against Caesar, which is filmed beautifully by cinematographer Michael Seresin—the orange light of the torches inside Caesar’s barren cave home lick the walls and contrast with the very blue reflection of the nearby waterfall to create a sense of energy leading up to Caesar’s discovery of the Colonel. We see his point-of-view as multiple green lights flow downward with the waterfall, at which point Caesar walks over and reaches outward to find ropes dangling down in front of it.
This also helps to convey visually to the audience who is good and bad, especially the Colonel during the night op scene. His face, covered in black tiger stripes and half-illuminated, shows a shattered man who is struggling to remain human. To some extent this type of visual flare also translates extremely well to the apes in the film—namely, the scene where Maurice meets Nova and convinces her to come with Caesar and the rest of the group.
Additionally, the motion capture work and CGI is also absolutely stunning. Some scenes look so realistic that they cross the Uncanny Valley and actually look real and tangible. The film uses this to its advantage and does not skimp out on close-ups of multiple characters, namely Maurice, Caesar, and numerous others, to completely capture the audience’s sense of awe and wonder at what they are seeing.
As this series has demonstrated in the past, not all prequels will be terrible, and War for the Planet of the Apes is no exception as it surpasses the previous two installments by a mile and bookends Caesar’s story nicely, leaving the ending open to continue into the previous five films or a new prequel— a project already announced and green-lit by 20th Century Fox. Do not miss this deeply moving and character-driven drama framed around a struggle for survival this summer.