War for the Planet of the Apes is the latest saga in the Apes trilogy, following 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes; whether this is the concluding chapter remains to be seen (the way this one ends, it can go either way).
The entire trilogy is a reboot of the original Planet of the Apes films that started back in 1968 with Charlton Heston starring (the less said about Tim Burton’s misbegotten 2001 remake, the better).
War is the best of the bunch (pun intended) due to a a compelling story line, some beautiful camera work and an excellent performance by Andy Serkis as the ape leader Caesar; with regards to the final point, much has been made of whether or not Serkis deserves an Academy award nomination for his performance which is done mostly as motion capture, leading traditionalists to argue that gimmicks such as that are not truly “acting” in the conventional sense.
From this corner, that argument is weak – just watch Serkis move, watch his facial expressions (anger, tenderness, sorrow and more are conveyed beautifully) and listen to how he uses his voice (he’s one of the few apes that can speak) and there will be no doubt that he ought to be in the mix come awards time.
In this installment, Caesar and a small band of followers set out to find the renegade Colonel (shades of Apocalypse Now) who was responsible for the death of Caesar’s wife and child and whose zealotry seems to be a major barrier to peace between the apes and the remaining humans.
The film has much to recommend – beautiful photography with magnificent shots of apes on horseback riding across snow-covered fields, excellent acting (besides Serkis , there’s Steve Zahn providing comic relief as Bad Ape along with Woody Harrelson chewing every piece of scenery in sight as the Colonel) and a well-crafted message about the need for compassion and tolerance, though that message is never so heavy-handed that it drags the film down.
Despite a couple of flaws – it’s a few minutes too long and the middle section drags a bit while Caesar is held captive by the Colonel) – War for the Planet of the Apes is a very well-done film that deserves six out of my seven run-on sentences.