The grim countenance of Caesar, the monkey leader from the Apes trilogy and a motion-captured image done by Andy Serkis, can invest an entire movie with gravity. Gone is the suggestion of a traditional fun blockbuster. Such are the cinematic times we live in where a movie called War for the Planet of the Apes is superbly crafted with special effects that it is taken with earnestness.
In this sequel, the war continues as Caesar keeps the ape society tucked high up in the forests while human aggressors infiltrate them from below. The gung-ho opening sequence has Caesar outsmarting rifled men by using spears. Events seem to be going in the apes favor, particularly when good news arrive about a discovered haven far from humans and ideal for starting a community. But just when the apes plan their migration, on the night prior to leaving, an orchestrated attack is made and Caesar’s family is killed. The ape leader arrives just in time to see the man responsible and with pure vengeance, pursues him on horseback toward a long journey.
This echoes the structure of a cowboy western in one man’s determined quest to accomplish what he perceives to be justice. It also reminded me of a handful of prison movies because Caesar is placed behind bars and inspires hope into the rest of the inmates. Perhaps one too much familiarity kept my appreciation of this story at a distance.
Nevertheless, the film is engaging as it hooks viewers with action and suspense, slows down during Caesars travels, and builds up towards an action packed finale. It also has better and wider cinematography in capturing nature and using creative camera angles.
Action films depend on villains and here, on a snowy mountainside, is the military camp headed by a madman only known as the Colonel. He is a leader without fear or mercy but played by a bald headed Woody Harrelson, the part is convincing. The Colonel has a tragic backstory which explains how he acquired his way of thinking, and it slightly changes the general outlook towards his character. So Caesar is out to get him and when he gets imprisoned, it becomes a dual mission about not only accomplishing payback but also freeing all the other apes. Behind bars and under brutal treatment, Caesar progresses through the emotions of fear, grief, and empathy. But there is also hope because along with his travels are three apes, some of whom have disagreed with the personal mission, but after witnessing the prison atrocities from a distance, decide to concoct an escape plan. They are Maurice, Luca, and Rocket who are voiced by Karin Konoval, Michael Adamthwaite, and Terry Notary.
Directed and written by Matt Reeves and co written by Mark Bomback, the ape trilogy brings about many opinions that are not new. They are very consequential in that it all stems from the fear incurred in the coexistence of differing species. And then it moves into the importance of proper communication between them. When all else fails, comes self-preservation, how war can lead to extremist behavior, and how hatred is difficult to overcome (for some). Cesar and the Colonel fall victim to some of those issues. War for the Planet of the Apes concludes the trilogy with an emotional finish. I didn’t think it tread on any new ground, using straightforward motivations and reflecting on other prison movies, but the execution is undeniably excellent.