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Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

"Andy Serkis elevates the Apes to high planes with yet another stellar Motion capture performance."

In this third and final instalment of Matt Reeves re-imagining of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis), the leader of the highly-intelligent ape resistance, has offered humanity peace in the face of annihilation. Refusing to comply, humankind forces the apes into battle under the strict ruling of the antagonistic Colenel (Woody Harrelson). Knowing only one race can prevail, war is waged.

The obvious focal point of War for the Planet of the Apes is the excellent energy and talent that Serkis brings to his craft. It may be easy to mistake, but this is certainly a professional and arguably auteur performance; it is impeccably realised and should not be disregarded as merely ‘good effects’.

Although a film about apes, this is certainly one of the most human films of the year. The central characters are anthropomorphised with deep emotion and heartfelt motivation. The purpose of their plight evokes ideas of a new humanity - they truly deserve to prosper on earth, and sadly, the eradication of much of the earth’s population feels to be no loss. The apes seem as though they may be the next step in logical evolution, they are communal and loving, juxtaposing the hatred and corruption of the soldiers willing to ignore any aims for harmony in co-existence. The only compassionate human present is a girl rescued by Caesar and his comrades, who they name Nova (Amiah Miller). She is a symbol of hope and purity, but is sided with the apes, suggesting where humanity’s real progress lay.

Reeves is surprisingly confident in his employment of symbolism and beautifully striking images to provide the film with soul and voice. The use of natural imagery to convey Caesar’s epic fight for survival really encourage audiences to empathise and root for him; the fall of humanity is particularly well expressed through mise en scene. What better way to suggest societal collapse than an aged, run-down Coca Cola truck shot in the backdrop of apes on horseback?

The use of light and dark compositions recalls the cinematography of Gordon Willis, once heralded the ‘Prince of Darkness’ for his genius employment of shadows; primarily famous for his work on The Godfather, a film of which stylistic and narrative influence was apparent in the Apes second instalment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. However, this third instalment shares similarities with another of Francis Ford Coppola’s films, in this case, Apocalypse Now. Woody Harrelson’s performance as the Colenel is excellent, taking clear inspiration from Marlon Brando’s Colenel Kurtz, of Apocalypse Now. Besides character, there is also intertextuality of plot, and if that fails to reach audiences, the words ‘Ape-ocalypse Now’ scrawled on the wall certainly will.

Much of the film feels to be set primarily in one location, which may bore viewers as it becomes increasingly predictable as to how events will play out. But, it is well directed - there is no question. Reeves re-imagining of the original material is expertly modernised, and it feels as though his two contributions to the Apes revival will go down in history to have shaped one of cinema’s great trilogies. The film’s final moments may underwhelm many who were expecting a more sweeping conclusion, but for those who agree that the series has been such an emotionally hectic journey, the sigh of relief it provides will surely be welcomed.

⅘ stars.

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