In 2011, right as Hollywood’s current obsession with reboots and remakes was really kicking into high-gear, we were treated to quite the surprise with Rise of Planet of the Apes. The sequel, 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, under the direction of Matt Reeves, improved upon its predecessor and set us up for what we all hoped would be the cap to an incredible trilogy of modern sci-fi movies. Hope no more. War for the Planet of the Apes surpasses all expectations, and those expectations are, understandably, very high. We are now looking at one of the greatest trilogies of all time, up there with the likes of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and anything else you want to throw in the mix. This now enters the discussion. No question.
From 20th Century Fox, War for the Planet of the Apes picks up two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar (Andy Serkis) is in hiding with the rest of his apes, as they are being hunted by a determined and ruthless military Colonel (Woody Harrelson) who will stop at nothing to find Caesar and wipe his kind off the face of the Earth. When the apes are discovered, all out war breaks out and that forces Caesar to make some very tough decisions, which could leave the fate of their species at risk. With an even bigger battle looming, it is up to one side, apes or humans, to emerge victorious and determine the fate of their species.
There is some talk of franchise/sequel fatigue in Hollywood right now. When watching something like War for the Planet of the Apes, it becomes clear that there is not franchise fatigue, so much as there is fatigue for mediocrity. If people made movies this great all of the time within the scope of summer blockbusters, nobody would ever tire of them. That I assure you. Then again, that would make what Matt Reeves was able to accomplish with War for the Planet of the Apes much less special. It looks gorgeous. The characters are great and well thought out. They are characters worth caring for, not just disposable cannon fodder. The performances, both motion-capture and human alike, are all outstanding. The action is intense and amazing, but not without its purpose. Truthfully, it is tough to find anything not to like, if not love, about this movie.
Andy Serkis, as has been the case with the previous installments, anchors this movie in a way that can’t be praised enough. His performance is so unbelievably good that it truly is a shame he can’t be considered for an Oscar. Because he deserves it. I encourage the Academy to amend that rule before next year so we can get Andy Serkis the Academy Award he so sorely deserves. Yes, he is doing motion-capture, but this character would be nothing near what it is without him. This isn’t just a technical achievement, this is one of the great modern characters and performances that one can think of and it deserves to be honored. War for the Planet of the Apes is the best of three entirely tremendous performances from Serkis.
The rest of the cast delivers in spades as well. Once again, Karin Konoval as Maurice is spectacular and Steve Zahn, yes that Steve Zahn, gives what might be a career-best performance as one of the new apes in the movie. Woody Harrelson is also an effectively menacing and excellent villain. Truly, if you spot a piece of bad acting in War for the Planet of the Apes, I’d be surprised. I certainly didn’t.
Another thing that people gripe about, rightfully so, is underwhelming special effects in huge, mega-budget blockbusters. Or at the very least, it is tough to be impressed these days. War for the Planet of the Apes is impossible not to be impressed by in that respect. The apes look so real at times, it is honestly a bit scary to think that much of this is being done with CGI. This is one of the best-looking blockbusters in regards to its technical achievements in a very long time, up there with the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road and a select few other, truly remarkable standouts.
This is more than the movie we were all hoping it would be. This is the standard by which blockbuster movies should be held to. No, we can’t expect all things to be the best thing, but in striving for greatness, you sometimes achieve greatness. Director Matt Reeves and everyone who worked on War for the Planet of the Apes have achieved greatness here. This is not only going to be one of the if not the single best movie of the summer, it may be one of the best movies of the year. It will certainly be tough to top.