The Cloverfield director who has also directed the previous film of the franchise, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, returns with an emotional film that knows how to pull all the right strings to compose a triumphant rhapsody. A blockbuster meets a touching drama in the third film of the franchise reboot, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
We’re thrust into a battle in the very opening scene: a human search party assisted by Koba is determined to find and kill Caesar – but as the fight starts and the hostages are taken, it becomes clear that the peace between the species can’t be achieved. Soon, the soldiers return, with brutal Colonel leading the mission. The apes’ habitat is not a safe place anymore; Caesar sends the apes on an exodus, asking them to search for promised land discovered by his son. But he doesn’t join them in the new venture. Fuelled by the personal vendetta for the Colonel, he goes after the soldiers alongside heroic Rocket, brave Luca and gently, clever Maurice.
Although the spoken dialogue makes for around a third of the movie, Matt Reeves knows exactly how to elevate the ape pantomime with the tools he’s got. The gestures, and more importantly, the faces speak more than a word permits. One of the most poignant scenes culminates in Luca sliding a tiny sprig behind the ear of his new human friend underneath a blossoming cherry. A simple moment of joy known to all of us in a scenic setting examines human interactions by blurring the lines of identities and creates an avalanche of dramatic tension. With every smile, tear and wince, we share a bit of happiness and heartbreak portrayed on the silver screen.
The contrast built by the antagonist and the protagonist is insanely strong and makes you think of what makes one “human”; it’s a battle of principles and identities that’s as impactful as a metaphor as it is a storytelling device. Andy Serkis reprises Caesar once again, giving him the palette of the feelings that make us feel the weight he bears on his shoulders, not only as a leader but also as a parent, a friend and an individual who gets to pick from imperfect options. Woody Harrelson is in charge of an army as the merciless Colonel – however, there’s much more to his character than meets the eye. Haunted by the difficult choices, he’s battle-hardened – whether it’s about fighting the enemy or his inner demons.
And the flawless characterisation makes this film such a poignant piece of cinema. The story extends what we already know: apes are stacked against humans in an uneven, brutal war. The devil’s in the detail, however. The entire package that we’re given makes use of its every bit and never allows it to fall flat. In the end, the film becomes a picture of lives torn apart by war, with character sketches so strong that the moral dilemmas and existential questions don’t leave the audience even for a minute. Topped with expert editing, the pace of the story is flawless and mixes little victories with challenges and tragedies as we go along.
The cinematography and CGI work are particularly eye-catching. The tiny details, from facial expressions to the fur on the bodies of the apes, are so sophisticated that the realism of the portrayal soars above any blockbuster post-Rogue One. But the visual effects aren’t the only ones that are pure eye candy: the composition of each shot is well-thought and serves to evoke feelings and build emotional connections. The close-up on Caesar with cheering soldiers in the background is stunning, and so are other shots in which the depth of field manipulations bring us closer to the main characters.
The combination of VFX and photographic work results in a highly realistic universe that feels familiar; it’s much easier to understand and empathise with the characters whose daily life unfolds in front of us. It’s that Coca-Cola truck deserted at the outskirts of the forest or the references to pop-culture that deserve a big praise; thoroughly planned and topped with a phenomenal set design, War for the Planet of the Apes is an incredible simulation that takes all the what-ifs to the highest level.
Excellent visuals are coming to life with the musical background that we’re served, too. For the length of the film, we’re accompanied by a brilliant soundtrack which adds so much weight to the crucial scenes, making it a multidimensional experience. As always, the sound design is up to scratch and helps to build the post-apocalyptic world.
War for the Planet of the Apes opens in the UK on the 11th of July 2017.