Directed by: Matt Reeves | 140 minutes | action, adventure, science fiction, drama, thriller | Actors: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite, Toby Kebbell, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer, Sara Canning, Devyn Dalton, Aleks Paunovic, Alessandro Juliani
Director Matt Reeves took over the series of “Planet of the Apes” prequels from Rupert Wyatt in 2014. That first part (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes) was a very solid basis for an interesting film series. The even better second part offered viewers a lesson in sociology in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. Reeves is now back in the director’s chair, a risk. How often is it the case that after two great parts in a series, the third turns out to be a big step back (yes “The Dark Knight Rises and” Back to the Future Part III “, we are talking about you). Fans of the series, however, can indulge themselves. “War for the Planet of the Apes” is a more than complete end to the conflict between man and ape.
Anyone who thinks of major battles between the two parties with that title will be disappointed. The title war is only the backdrop for monkey leader Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) quest for revenge. After years of fleeing, the charismatic head of the monkey colony is found by the colonel (Woody Harrelson), who delivers a devastating blow to Caesar. After two films in which Caesar learned to love people, in this third part he learns to hate a person. That is something the character is also dealing with and it creates an interesting conflict. In essence, the war in the title even refers a little to Caesar’s inner struggle, can he conquer his hatred or will he lapse into the aggressive ways that are his kind?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore, but Andy Serkis once again plays the stars of heaven as Caesar. The fact that the monkeys also look more realistic this time, of course, contributes to this. Serkis remains a genius in bringing computer-generated characters to life and appears to have found quite a few colleagues in this form of acting. The biggest surprise in this is Bad Ape, played by Steve Zahn. A cowardly and clumsy monkey that Caesar and his people encounter on their journey, a character who could have become very annoying very quickly. Fortunately he forms the very welcome comic note in a fairly intense and moving whole.
Because outside of Bad Ape there is not much to laugh about in the film. It is very clear that “Apocalypse Now” has been a strong influence in the development of “War for the Planet of the Apes”. The Colonel, Harrelson’s character, is basically a new version of the insane Colonel from that aforementioned classic. Not that it has become a copy job, Harrelson is doing enough with the role to make it his own and the public believes him to be the passionate army commander who wants to see every intelligent monkey in the grave and above all wants humanity back at the top of the food chain.
The expectations for the film were high, but this third part undoubtedly manages to meet them and even exceed them at times. However, where it goes wrong is the pace of the film. The first half is an adventure picture in which the new characters are introduced. The second half, however, largely takes place at the same location, leaving the viewer with the feeling that there is no real progress anymore. It all remains interesting and gripping, but the story could have been a bit more streamlined.
Nonetheless, “War for the Planet of the Apes” remains a major hit. Is it a bit too sentimental at times? Of course, but now that Caesar has come to the end of his storyline, that bit of melodrama shouldn’t be a blemish. Director Matt Reeves also brings it with enough feeling without wiping out his sociology lessons. The last in the series of “Planet of the Apes” films is in any case a great ending to a trilogy that can fill many a movie night.