Truly great movies are often few and far between. Fewer still are those that conclude a series of films in an extraordinarily satisfying way, and yet here one is. The final chapter in what is arguably the best trilogy of the past fifteen years, director Matt Reeve's 2017 film, War for the Planet of the Apes concludes the rebooted Planet of the Apes series on a phenomenally high note.
When talking about any film in the rebooted Planet of the Apes series - which includes 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, 2014's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and 2017's War - the first thing that stands out is the exceptional use of CGI. Both Rise and Dawn featured exceptional CGI, and War is no different. To reach such a high level of realism in a film featuring so many elements that had to be created through the use of CGI is astounding. Every single one of the apes in the film looked as real as any ape you'll ever see. Certain close-up shots throughout the film took the use of CGI even further, showcasing the most haunting "human-looking" eyes I've ever seen in cinema. Even the CGI used on shots not featuring the apes was indistinguishable from reality, and flawlessly built off of Michael Seresin's gorgeous cinematography. This is the type of movie CGI was made for.
The best-looking ape was, of course, Caesar, played via motion capture by the great Andy Serkis, who once again proves that motion capture technology is no hindrance to a great performance. It's a shame that Serkis has yet to be recognized during awards season for his fantastic mo-cap work across a variety of roles, Caesar being chief among them. Prominent returning characters included Karin Konoval's Maurice and Terry Notary's Rocket. Both characters were featured in the previous two films in the franchise, and as they did in Rise and Dawn, both did a fantastic job bringing emotional weight to the roles. Steve Zahn, a newcomer to the franchise played "Bad Ape", who acted as a primarily comic-relief character - a first for the franchise. Although it felt a little strange at first, it ended up working, and he had me laughing on numerous occasions. Another newcomer, Amiah Miller, who played a human character was wonderful and brought a sense of innocence to the dark film. As for the film's primary antagonist, Woody Harrison's "Colonel," he too was fantastic, and offered a chilling look at what can happen when mankind decides to abandon their humanity for "the greater good."
Building off of this, War paints a brutal picture of the series most tragic character - Caesar. In each film in the series, Caesar suffers through hardship after hardship, and those misfortunes haunt his character throughout War. I think it is perfectly acceptable, and accurate, to say that Caesar is one of the most tragic characters not only in this franchise, but in cinematic history as a whole - and that means something. What does it say about cinema when one of the most "human" characters ever created isn't even human? It continues building on the important questions raised in the earlier two films, and it's one mark of great storytelling.
Finally, no great movie is complete without great writing, music, and cinematography. War for the Planet of the Apes excels in all three areas. Michael Giacchino's powerful score complements both the emotional weight of Matt Reeve's and Mark Bomback's script, as well as Michael Seresin's cinematography. Moments that should feel emotional, powerful, and epic do feel as such, and as I've come to realize more and more as of late, that isn't something to take for granted in film nowadays.
While Dawn is still my favorite entry in the franchise - which, I might add, is my favorite trilogy of all time - War is outstanding in its own right, and deserved to make far more money than it did. A poorly chosen release date and lack of sufficient marketing hindered the film's performance at the box office, but critically the film prevailed - as it deserved to.
War for the Planet of the Apes is something truly special. Emotional, powerful, and thought-provoking, the final installment in the new Apes franchise succeeds in making the audience think about the world around them, and what it truly means to be "human" after all.