The modern Apes trilogy has spanned six years and following the Rise and Dawn comes War for the Planet of the Apes, the third and final instalment directed and co-written by Matt Reeves. The story is picked up as leader of the apes Caesar (Andy Serkis) is hiding out in the woods with his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer), his wise orangutan adviser Maurice (Karin Konoval) and the rest of his tribe. After coming under an unprovoked attack, he offers a truce to the merciless Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a soldier that vows to wipe out the apes once and for all. However, when the call for peace is not reciprocated, a brutal battle for survival ensues.
The narrative unfolds against a CGI-laden, dystopian landscape, but lives up to its name and manages to feel very much like an old-fashioned war movie. The tone and visuals playfully riff off against genre classics to create ‘Ape-ocalypse Now’ or ‘Great Esc-ape’ vibes as Caesar’s journey rides triumphantly on horseback towards its conclusion. Michael Giacchino’s suspenseful score is a sublime accompaniment to the stunning aesthetics, and helps to build an immersive and captivating cinematic experience. Despite descending into action blockbuster territory for the final chapter, the franchise’s intelligent central themes around moral ambiguity are not cast aside but are explored further, combining with a revenge plot as the protagonist Caesar faces an internal dilemma that forces him to question everything he stands for.
We all know by now that Andy Serkis is the industry’s go-to-guy for motion-capture acting, but he has exceeded expectations in this terrific tour-de-force turn, giving Caesar the last hurrah he deserves. Across the trilogy, we have watched the chimpanzee learn, grow and develop and from behind the mask of special effects, Serkis has skilfully made the character arc all the more fascinating in his performance. The humans have often played second fiddle to the primates in terms of the performances from this particular series of movies, but the ever-reliable Woody Harrelson is on fine form as the complex villain of the piece.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a thoughtful, emotionally charged and fitting finale to what should be recognised as one of the greatest trilogies in the modern age of filmmaking. Reeves expertly balances the exquisitely constructed CGI spectacle with the nuanced character study at the core of the franchise. Serkis utterly excels in both areas of the craft, physically embodying the flawed yet fearless action hero and also providing the important voice to a powerful film that speaks volumes about the state of society.