By: 3-Deep (Two Beers) –
Blockbuster fatigue is in fashion this summer season. Old reliables are left dormant at the box office, to say the least. Audiences would rather catch up on GLOW before seeing The Mummy or Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Which leaves War for the Planet of the Apes in a curious position. The third installment in the shockingly great prequel trilogy, which finally gives motion capture actor extraordinary Andy Serkis the lead performance of a lifetime as Caesar, the leader of the ape rebellion, War For the Planet of the Apes is a bleak, chilling, emotionally taxing, and pathologically haunting conclusion. It’s filled with fraught tension, heartbreaking consequences, weighty pathos, and challenging thematics. This snowy, coldly cynical, but also weirdly emotional new sequel is almost everything you wouldn’t expect from a big summer blockbuster, and that’s crucial to its solemn, strangely moving success.
The latest sequel directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) finds Caesar and the rest of the primates in a futile fight with humanity. With the intelligent apes in dire straits, Caesar remains vigilant but weary, knowing full well that war is nothing if not painfully, heartbreakingly consequential. And in their most devastating loss yet, Caesar seeks revenge on the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a malignant, unsympathetic war criminal ready to do whatever it takes to keep humanity from falling victim to the apes’ uprising.
Along the way, Caesar and his trusted companions, Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Rocket (Terry Notary), meet a precious mute orphan (Amiah Miller) and an outcast former zoo chimpanzee who calls himself Bad Ape (Steve Zahn, in a spirited turn), all of whom help to rescue Caesar after he voluntarily finds himself under the cruel captivity of the Colonel’s torture chamber. War doesn’t leave any clear survivors, however, and in the process of providing retribution for his kind, Caesar might have to give up everything.
War for the Planet of the Apes is, quite simply, a cinematic marvel. Much like the first two installments before it, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it’s a near perfect blend of state-of-the-art technology mixed with some fundamentally captivating old-fashioned storytelling, a spellbinding combination of old-fashioned merits mixed with new-age innovation. In their own individual ways, each installment proves itself more efficient and more proficient than the last. Reeves commands this newest sequel with a stern dedication to the grim bleakness of this foreboding tale. Filled with meditation and contemplation, War for the Planet of the Apes is, by far, among the most thoughtful, intelligent and, ironically, human blockbuster to graze the silver(back) screen in far, far too long.
And honestly, what can be said about Serkis’ simply extraordinary performance that hasn’t been said already? Filled with soulful depth and broken reflection, Serkis’ Caesar is more downtrodden and mangled in this newest installment but never less than powerful in his convictions. It solidifies Serkis as one of the strongest and most outstanding central characters of the 21st century, and that might honestly be an understatement. Serkis has always been one of the greatest working actors (and sometimes tragically misunderstood) working in the business today, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll receive a long-overdue lifetime achievement Oscar for his performance in this film, along with his incredible work inside the past few other high-profile WETA cinematic contributions. It’s an unmistakably vulnerable and electrifying portrayal of grief and the power of reconciliation. This series has always excelled at making us root against our own species, and the key to its overwhelming success can be found in Serkis’ steady hand.
But man, is this movie bleak. And I’m someone who loves their movies nice and dark. War for the Planet of the Apes follows in the steps of its predecessor to a fault. Lacking the stark contrast between Rise and Dawn which ultimately makes the second film the strongest in this new trilogy, War can often feel as though we’re retreating familiar waters, even though — all things considered — we’re not. Also, at 140 minutes, War for the Planet of the Apes‘ onslaught of melancholy and sorrow is quite a bitter pill to swallow. Not as digestible and immersive as the previous two films, War for the Planet of the Apes might leave you restless in the middle, as it struggles to find its narrative focus in the midst of overbearing Jesus allegories and hard wrought pain for our central apes. It’s impeccably made filmmaking throughout it all, but the script, written by Reeves and Mark Bomback, could afford to tighten up the drab second act.
But why temper with some true greatness? War for the Planet of the Apes is high spectacle cinema at some of its most compelling and pathologically resilient. It’s proof that this new prequel series will go down as one of the strongest and most surprising trilogies in cinematic history. That’s no easy feat. War for the Planet of the Apes comes when the summer movie season is in dire need of high-end filmmaking. Thankfully, it has greatness to spare. War for the Planet of the Apes is an absolutely astounding triumph.
War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Caesar is brought down.
Take a Drink: anytime humans are seen as desperate or plain evil.
Take a Drink: for every pained wide-eyed stare from the little girl.
Take a Drink: for every Jesus allegory.
Do a Shot: for that final moment. It’s been a hell of a ride.