The third in the series following Rise and Dawn (don’t worry, their stories are summarized at the beginning), War for the Planet of the Apes sees Caesar (Andy Serkis) leading his genetically-enhanced simian people in what seems to be a happy life – except that the humans just won’t leave them alone.
Nearly wiped out by the Simian Flu, the humans are now represented by a violent force of Alpha Omega soldiers led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Some scared apes have turned traitor and joined him, so Caesar agrees to a plan to lead his people across the desert to a new home – but the word gets out and there’s an attack, and the Colonel kills Caesar’s wife and son.
Wrenched away from his desire for peace, Caesar vows bloody revenge, reluctantly allowing Rocket (Terry Notary), Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) to join him on his quest to travel to the border and hunt down the Colonel.
En route they come across a mute girl named Nova (Amiah Miller) and a long-hidden escapee from a zoo, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), but by the time they have reached the former weapons depot at the border, Caesar’s people (including his young son Cornelius) are there behind bars – and Caesar himself is then captured.
The Colonel tortures Caesar, revealing that the Simian Flu has mutated and now renders humans speechless, regressing them to a primitive mentality, while outside Rocket, Maurice and Bad Ape are using an underground tunnel to help prepare for an escape – but during the break, opposing military forces appear and attack…
The final story in the reboot trio, this has received excellent reviews for its camerawork, direction and performances, Serkis’ motion capture work in particular (he’s surely the best actor ever in that regard).
There are long stretches with no dialogue or subtitles here – only a few of the apes can speak, while Harrelson gets to chew the scenery as a Colonel Kurtz-type – yet we’re just as engaged with these characters and their feelings, friendships and families.
Despite the title this is no all-out action movie, and in a time when superheroes seem to dominate the cinema screens, to see a story that about humanity and so many of the traits we associate with it (but from characters who can’t just shake off endless pummeling) adds a real frailty and emotion.
The special effects – aside from the cinematography of stunning snowy mountains and landscapes – are first rate, and rarely do you not feel that these are real creatures we’re seeing; sometimes the many shots of the faces – and those eyes – make you almost want to look away.
More than that – and again arguably separating it from some superhero fare – there’s some real complexity here in the plot and storyline, with allusions to the ancient Hebrews, African-American slaves and Native Americans, all wrapped in our own needless inability to stop interfering with the planet and its creatures.
Nature always wins in the end though – and the Colonel’s final scene has a great bon mot – but he’s not the only character we won’t see again in the next sequel.