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War For The Planet of The Apes - DVD Review

War For The Planet of The Apes

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THERE were plenty of sceptics when it was first announced that the Planet of the Apes franchise was to be rebooted six years ago with Rise. But three films in and this Andy Serkis fronted saga has comfortably emerged as a trilogy to rival the likes of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films in terms of quality.

War For The Planet of The Apes even manages that rare feat of delivering a third film that maintains, and possibly sharpens, the value of what has come before. It is a powerful, emotional [possible] climax that engages the heart and the brain in a manner not usually associated with blockbuster movie-making of this type.

If anything, Matt Reeves – who returns to the directing chair following the success he enjoyed with Dawn – has crafted a film that flies in the face of most franchise conventions. It is character-based more than action-packed, even though the set pieces are delivered in spectacular fashion.

And there are big themes at play which are never trivialised, coupled with large chunks of subtitled interplay between its ape protagonists (akin to watching a foreign language film in places). Reeves, like Rupert Wyatt before him, asks a lot of his audience but rewards them with something utterly involving and worthy of the time investment.

Set some time after the events of Dawn, the film picks up as the war between apes – led by Serkis’ Caesar – and humans is still raging. Caesar, for his part, carries the emotional scars of his journey so far, including his involvement in the death of angry traitor ape Koba (Toby Kebbell), as well as a continued hope that some kind of peace can be found.

But in his current nemesis, Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), he faces a formidable opponent, who will stop at nothing to ensure that ape-kind is wiped out. When McCullough stages a shock attack on Caesar’s encampment that strikes deep at the heart of all that Caesar holds dear, Caesar sets out on a path to revenge that could spell disaster for everyone concerned.

By his own admission, Reeves has drawn inspiration for War from the obvious likes of Apocalypse Now and Bridge Over The River Kwai to Spartacus and even more Biblical epics such as The Ten Commandments. Yet while certainly boasting obvious parallels to conflicts old and new, his film also stands up in its own right as a cautionary tale that makes some very salient points about the nature of humanity.

As a result, it provides plenty for his actors to chew on, with Serkis – again – a giant in terms of what can be achieved using performance capture. His Caesar is now a far cry from the innocent chimp of the first film – a world-weary leader whose conscience is as big an opponent as the mortal men placed before him. He is haunted yet still clinging to his humanity; a leader attempting to combine doing the best for his species with his own personal agenda.

War For The Planet of The Apes

If Serkis was operating in any other field, he would almost certainly have achieved some form of awards recognition by now. With War, the clamour for getting a nomination at the very least should be deafening.

Harrelson, for his part, is equally as compelling as the similarly battle-scarred McCullough, a Colonel Kurtz-inspired renegade just about clinging to his own sanity, who is dangerously driven to protect his own kind. Though given much less screen-time, he remains a notable presence (much like Brando in Apocalypse Now), while the scenes between him and Serkis are electrifying (and rife with terrific dialogue).

Indeed, it’s a measure of the success of these films that it’s the character interplay between the various characters (whether Serkis with James Franco, Jason Clarke or Harrelson) that leaves as big an impression on audiences as the action set pieces, ensuring that come the film’s poignant climax the tears (if shed) are really well earned.

That’s not dismissing the film’s potential to exhilarate, for there’s plenty to savour on a purely visual level too – from the striking opening section, involving two stealth attacks on the apes’ woodland habitat, to a Great Escape-style flight to freedom that’s sure to deliver a crowd-pleasing high.

There are shocks along the way, too, with not every character guaranteed a happy outcome. Indeed, the bittersweet tone of the franchise as a whole is maintained throughout, as if to underline the emotional complexity at play.

War For The Planet of The Apes therefore stands as a deeply impressive achievement and a shining example of how franchises can test audiences as much as they entertain. Taking the series as a whole, it deserves to stand up as a modern great.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 140mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: November 27, 2017