Kernel Rating (out of 5): (4 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 140 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This final installment in the “Planet of the Apes” prequel trilogy series has scenes of action and violence that are similar to the preceding films, including fighting between human soldiers and evolved apes, with gunfire, spears, bows and arrows, fires, and explosions; numerous people and apes die, including women and children, and a pivotal character takes his own life. Also some cursing; some gross scenes with animal feces; some emotionally disturbing scenes including one in which an ape is whipped and others in which apes are tied up and tortured; and characters drink alcohol.
The ‘Planet of the Apes’ prequel trilogy delivers its strongest installment in its finale, ‘War for the Planet of the Apes.’ Although the movie dips often into myth-making, it is visually tremendous, emotionally engrossing, and thematically complicated, a well-done link between these modern films and the original classic.
By Roxana Hadadi
In a summer of sequels and reboots, “War for the Planet of the Apes” is an atypical franchise work. The conclusion of the prequel trilogy that started with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and continued with “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “War for the Planet of the Apes” is stupendous, a thoughtful, intentional finale that fits well with the original “Planet of the Apes” and is a visual phenomenon. It leans heavily into its own myth-making, but the film can’t be blamed for buying into its own hype.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” begins some years after “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” in which the battle between the remaining humans, mostly killed off by the simian flu, and the genetically enhanced, intelligent apes, ratcheted up in intensity. The world order is different now: Barely any human communities remain, and the only groups of humans still alive are soldiers, who are hunting down the chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans led by Caesar (Andy Serkis, of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”).
The years have weighed on Caesar: The bright-eyed, idealistic leader of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is hardened now, battling cynicism about the prospect of peace between the apes and humans. He tells a group of captured humans sent to kill them, “Leave us the woods and the killing can stop ... We are not savages,” but the humans aren’t interested in a compromise that leaves both sides alive.
Led by Col. McCullough (Woody Harrelson, of “Now You See Me 2”), the remaining soldiers’ goal is total destruction of Caesar and his apes. “This is a holy war. All of human history led to this moment,” McCullough says, and it’s clear that he’s on barely this side of crazy. But while he is obsessed with his “purpose” of cleansing the world of apes, he’s hiding a secret, too—one that Caesar and the apes may be able to use.
Individual humans have never been the truly interesting parts of these “Apes” prequels, and “War” is no exception. While Harrelson effectively captures the desperation and intensity of McCullough’s character, it’s humanity overall that is threatening here, and so what is more striking than his particular performance are the details of humans as a group: How the soldiers write things like “Monkey Killer” and “Endangered Species” on their helmets; how they enlist apes dissatisfied with Caesar to help them and nickname them “Donkeys,” after the video game Donkey Kong, and still treat them like garbage; how easily entranced they are by the violence and destruction offered by war. “War” has the most fully realized depiction of humanity as a danger to the world, and it is believable and disheartening.
It is Serkis’s performance that this film circles around, and his arc as Caesar is the key to this whole thing. How he struggles with the mistakes of the past shape his path moving forward, and Serkis gives amazing interiority to a character whose entire presentation is digitally created. But he’s almost one-upped by Steve Zahn as Bad Ape, a character whose years of loneliness are captured in his wide-eyed gaze and pervasive self-doubt. If Bad Ape isn’t one of your favorite movie characters of 2017, you need to re-assess your choices.
“War” does so much right—the detailed characterizations; the lush visuals; the conflict that could be arguable from either side—but there are some issues here. The musical cues toward the end of the film do a little too much to stamp “Caesar, hero and savior” into your understanding of this finale, and it’s clear from the beginning that this is a movie that is sympathetic to him above everyone else. There could be about 10 minutes removed from the run time and the story might flow a bit faster. And while all the “Apocalypse Now” references and homages are well-done, they’re as aggressively noticeable as those in “Kong: Skull Island.”
To give away other details of “War for the Planet of the Apes” would risk sharing how much of this narrative fits into the original 1968 “Planet of the Apes” film, and it is an impressive creation of continuity that shouldn’t be spoiled. “Apes together, strong,” Caesar says. That line is only one of the many elements of “War for the Planet of the Apes” that will stick with you.
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