“War for the Planet of the Apes” ends trilogy perfectly

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Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The new “Planet of the Apes” series continues to stun as it flips the blockbuster-action film genre on its head, showing that big budget movies are more than just popcorn flicks, but can be great studies of the struggles and difficulties of humanity’s darkest facets.

The war between ape and human kind rages on after the Simian Flu has wiped out a significant portion of humanity. Caesar (Andy Serkis), leader of the apes, hides his family in a remote outpost before discovering there may be land beyond the mountains where his ape tribe can live in peace from the humans of the military faction Alpha-Omega, a ruthless and maniacal group whose disdain for ape kind grows everyday due to mysterious lingering effects of the flu.

Alpha-Omega is led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) who is hellbent on destroying all ape-kind. Caesar and his family must find a way to escape the human army tracking them, but The Colonel’s actions cause Caesar to take on a personal vendetta, one that will find him crossing into enemy territory to finally take down the people who oppressed him and killed his people for so long.

There’s something so powerful about the story of “War of the Planet of the Apes” and its predecessors that allow it to transcend the traditional framework of blockbuster films. These are movies that have tackled the fear of pandemic, loss of humanity, the forming of culture, the flexible bands of functional society and much more.

All this is through the gaze of characters who are CGI, motion-capture apes. Despite this, the main characters of these movies have never felt more human. In fact the humans in the series have grown increasingly more barbaric as the movies have proceeded and they are the absolute image of evil in “War.”

Harrelson’s band of apocalyptic shaved mad men and women is almost certainly a comparison to the Nazis of WWII and the more modern skinheads of our era. Spewing supposedly righteous vitriol in the name of preserving their species while killing off a peaceful species simply based on the unjustified fear that the apes harbor ill-will against them.

Harrelson’s Colonel is an absolute terror to behold. Unhinged, blatantly megalomaniacal and his soldiers worship him like a god. There’s no image in this movie quite as disgustingly rage-inducing as him shaving his head to the tune of a warped National Anthem blared through speakers as his cult-like servants beat peaceful apes to their knees in vainglorious glee.

To top it off though there’s nothing quite as gloriously and emotionally moving as the moments when Caesar stands up to him in efforts to protect his people. Caesar is, as always, the emotional crux of this movie and Serkis’ performance as him is not only Oscar worthy, but cements Caesar as one of the greatest film characters of all time.

Caesar is an incredible leader, smart, cunning, noble and willing to sacrifice everything for his people and the emotion Serkis brings to life in this computer-generated image is absolutely breathtaking.

The supporting cast also does a good job as each character and actor are given moments to shine where the apes prove at every turn to be more deserving of the planet than any of the human characters in the movie.

There are a few issues though. The title of the movie hints that the titular war will encapsulate the whole movie, but the actual fighting is pushed off to the background. This won’t bother those interested in the film’s use of quiet, well-written and expertly directed emotional scenes, but it is a bit odd that the title doesn’t really seem to reflect the actual content of the film.

There’s also the matter of the young girl that Caesar and his smaller band of apes meet at the halfway point of the film. An eventual reveal of who she may be will have grand implications for those who are fans of past ape films but will mean nothing to those who have only seen these movies. Not to mention the reveal of this plot point feels like a bit of a distraction that doesn’t really seem to expand this new trilogy in any way. Both of these complaints are really small and do not affect the overall quality of the film.

The incredible action sequences feel tense at every moment for the simple reason that action almost always results in violence against characters you truly care about. This combined with the film’s beautiful score and amazing use of diverse locations are what make these films so impressive and so incredible. They squeeze so much emotion, heart and moving messages into short 140 minute runtimes without breaking a sweat.

I’ll call it now. These new “Planet of the Apes” movies will go down as one of the greatest trilogies in film history. Their consistent tackling of powerful and moving themes, truly unique and loveable characters, all mixed with truly incredible action cinematography makes “War for the Planet of the Apes” and its predecessors three truly fantastic films. Please, please do not miss out.

Rating: 5/5 stars