War for the Planet of the Apes: More Human Than Human
Review by Aaron Haughton
Matt Reeves closes out one of the most spectacular contemporary trilogies with War for the Planet of the Apes. Like the previous films in the series, War shares some similarities the original Apes series (specifically Battle for the Planet of the Apes) but isn't a direct remake. The film draws from the familiar in authentic ways, at some points taking on the vibe of Apocalypse Now and The Great Escape, but it always manages to pack boatloads of humanity for a movie about a buncha damn dirty apes.
The film follows Cesar (played by Andy Serkis) and clan as they search for a peaceful place to call home amidst the winding down war with the humans. Plans are put on hold, however, when the Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson) from a rogue faction of human soldiers known as the Alpha-Omega sneaks into Cesar's home, murdering his wife and child before escaping. This act sends Cesar on a mission of revenge as he searches for the Colonel to deliver vengeance, a task that proves easier said than done.
As you can see from the trailer above, Harrelson in his portrayal of the Colonel evokes notes of Brando's Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. The feeling becomes more apparent whenever Cesar goes to visit the Colonel in his high rise overlook, especially during the showdown. However, this is mostly with regard to director of photography Michael Seresin's choice of slanted orangish-yellow lighting, leaving illuminated steaks and the rest dark shadow. The parallels are no doubt intended and made blatant when a cheeky ape spin on the Coppola title is seen spray painted in a tunnel -- Ape-pocalypse Now.
The film plays upon the familiar and iconic in slightly nuanced ways to reinforce the story Mark Bomback and Reeves are wanting to tell. For instance, the Colonel Kurtz parallels with regard to Harrelson's character automatically queue us in to the fact that he's a renegade military leader running a rogue operation, and he may very well be insane. This is a reference that Reeves bending slightly against our expectations, revealing that Harrelson's actions may appear unorthodox and deranged, but his motives become very clear and rational in the end.
At other times, the film brings to mind Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory with a long push down the ape base. This shot achieves exactly what it achieves in the Kubrick film, it shows the apes as they respond to Cesar's presence; we see their wear and tear and their respect for him. In the middle of the film, it takes on a very western feel before moving on to it's next familiarity. Lastly, it takes on the shape of The Great Escape (which brings to mind another ape-like pun: The Great Ape Escape), as Cesar and his comrades set out to free their captured clan from Harrelson's fortress. All of these familiarities and references are very subtle in the context of the story and really enhance the narrative as it unfolds.
Another thing that is very noticeable about the film is how much humanity undulates from the story and the CGI characters. The facial expressions and pathos that emanate from the hairy computer generated leads, particularly Andy Serkis, is astounding. The way in which Serkis embodies Cesar is encapsulating, but when you add the brilliant and incredibly life-like special effect flourishes by WETA Digital, you are emphatically immersed in the film and its story. The film truly is a visual marvel and marks a new high water mark in cinematic effects.
If you haven't caught the film yet, you may be able to still catch it one the big screen if your city has a 2nd run theater. However, it's available for pre-order currently with an expected digital release date of October 10th. In my opinion, the theater environment is where it's at with this film. You'll want the visuals as wide as possible and the audio to surround you.
Rating: 4 snow covered apes outta 5.
What do you think? Did you catch any other references in the film? Did the movie blow you away, or was it overhyped? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!