War for the Planet of the Apes – Movie Review

movie reviewThis new Planet Of The Apes series is a phenomenon to me. With a movie landscape going, almost entirely, for heavy and loud vfx spectacles, it is refreshing to see a film that is quiet and almost introvert. A film using vfx only for storytelling and asking questions about what makes us human. And still the series managed to create a fanbase and have some solid success at the box office. Hats off to you Hollywood, you can still do it.

The film starts with a group of soldiers preparing an attack on an ape village. A battle breaks loose and after early successes the battle turns and the soldiers have to retreat. But the losses on both sides are high. We meet Cesar again, the leader of the ape colony and a well known character from the past movies. We immediately notice that he got older and a little more grumpy it seems. He is very unsatisfied about the situation and together with his leaders he plans to move his folks to another, more peaceful, place. Under heavy losses the apes manage to push back the attack of the humans. Unfortunately there are traitors in their ranks and a later suprise attack by the humans takes an unbearable toll on Cesar. He sends his people away and goes for a revenge mission. Soon we find out that his people were captured by the humans Cesar was looking for. Now Cesar has to find a way to free them. And that too takes a high toll on him while he fights demons of the past. He soon learns that co-existence between apes and humans seems to be impossible.

The second film (at least I feel so) did have more action sequences in it. This third film is rather quiet and delivers a rollercoaster ride on more of an emotional level. That goes for both sides, the apes and the humans. Of course our sympathies clearly lean towards the apes. Especially in the moments of loss and when they’re caged in. There still is room for understanding the human perspective though. And the film does a nice job of showing it. On the human side it’s mainly fear and hubris. And that can be nicely observed in the leader of the humans, played by Woody Harrelson. Beside a little girl, he is pretty much the only human we have real contact to. He represents the whole human aspect, their emotions, motivations, fears and he does well in that part. Everything else is more or less focussed on the apes and how they deal with the circumstances.

With that focus on the apes it’s again remarkable how good these creatures look. Now they’re really seamlessly integrated into the live action footage. Most of the time I couldn’t tell at all when they used a puppet and when not. This of course works for the immersive quality of the movie. You soon forget to think that they’re vfx. The emotional range these apes show can be heartbreaking. What Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn and the other actors along with the vfx team did with Cesar and the other apes should be considered for a ton of awards. But not only Cesar is amazing to watch. He’s got a group of friends with him when he embarks on his trip to the human base. All of them are fantastic, have an own character and almost try to out-act each other in certain scenes.

On a technical level I must say that there is not much to complain. I enjoyed the camera work and even the music (even though not really too memorable) has an own character and style. I also liked the editing very much. The film has a good sense of when to keep a shot going and when to cut. Especially in the more emotional scenes. Maybe the pacing could have been a little better organized. I don’t think this film needed to be 140min long. It is a tiny bit too slow here and there.

As a long time fan of the original series I spotted a lot of obvious and not so obvious references in this film. That was nice to see and gave the whole film an extra layer (at least for the die hard fans). I don’t think they will try to connect the old series to the new series (and it would be wrong to do so if you ask me) but I enjoyed these little references.

Is it a theater must see? Probably not. Except you want to marvel at the vfx quality and some really beautiful shots. If you’ve seen the first two films, definitely check it out when it’s on bluray. It’s a fantastic continuation of the story. Great characters, well written and smoothly directed by Matt Reeves.

Even though entirely unnecessary, the 3d felt pretty good in case of this film. Less exhausting in a quieter film and more room for the effect to unfold.

A 7.5/10 for me.

War for the Planet of the Apes on IMDb

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