With each new “Planet of the Apes” movie, we’re getting closer and closer to the end of an epic journey that started nearly 50 years ago with the original 1968 “Planet of the Apes” movie starring Charlton Heston. And, yet, judging by the massive critical acclaim surrounding this new film (a 93% freshness score on Rotten Tomatoes) – the third in the much-hyped “Planet of the Apes” reboot – we might have at least one more film to go before the end of this popular franchise.
#1: This is the best “Planet of the Apes” yet
Once again director Matt Reeves has delivered a masterpiece, picking up on the action as we left it at the end of the “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and focusing once more on the sentient ape Caesar (as played by Andy Serkis) as he faces off against the megalomaniac military veteran known as The Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson).
Everything about this “Planet of the Apes” is better – the music, the cinematic sweep and especially the motion-capture technology. Everything about these apes appears to be so realistic – you can literally feel and see the wet fur of our simian rivals. And the eyes, too, are just so remarkable. At one point, a character looks into the eyes of one of the apes and is blown away by how “human” they look.
But that’s not all – director Matt Reeves has a deft hand for the pacing and narrative arc of this blockbuster. The first two-thirds of the film set up an epic climax at the end, in which the rogue military colonel must do battle with Caesar to determine the future of the world.
#2: You’ll actually be rooting for the apes in “War For the Planet of the Apes”
Surprisingly, the underlying narrative of “War For the Planet of the Apes” is not one of war, but of humanity and morality. Throughout the film, we are asked to explore what makes us human and distinct from the apes. Is it our morality? Because at times, the apes appear to act better than the “monkey killers.” Is it our compassion and ability to forgive? Because Caesar comes a lot closer to this than Woody Harrelson. Is it our humor? Well, there are plenty of apes – including the new “Bad Ape” – who bring a new kind of feeling and emotion that is nearly humanlike.
It all adds up to the fact that you might be rooting for the apes and not the humans by the end of this film. It is the apes – including both Caesar and Maurice, the kindly orangutan – that are embarked on an epic quest for revenge, but as we find out, it is the apes who actually hold the upper hand. Apes fight only when their survival has been challenged, unlike humans, who have a variety of reasons to embark on warlike behavior.
#3: The cinematic value of “War For the Planet of the Apes” is unsurpassed
It’s a no-brainer that this “Planet of the Apes” is going to do very well around Oscars season, at least in the technical categories. Fans and critics can’t stop talking about the photorealistic motion capture, and how life-like the apes look. Andy Serkis, in his role as Caesar, is just phenomenal.
Combine that with the cinematic sweep of the movie and this is a clear winner. The crisp, dark images and gloomy colors on screen lend a brooding mood and atmosphere, as well as a sense of tension. The musical score, too, is ominous and dramatic, but not to the point where it overshadows the action taking place on the screen.
#4: “War For the Planet of the Apes” is not your typical summer blockbuster
Judging from the title alone, you’d expect “War For the Planet of the Apes” to be filled with battle scenes and epic explosions. Yet, as hard as it may be to believe, there were probably more explosions and battle scenes in the earlier “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” And what war-like action takes place here does so in the final third of the movie, as it builds to a dramatic climax.
And the look and feel of this movie pays homage to so many other genres because it is so richly textured. For example, part of the movie plays out like a 1950’s Western movie, with a band of adventurers traveling through the Colorado Rockies. Another part of the movie will be reminiscent of WWII prisoner of war (POW) movies. The character of Woody Harrelson as the rogue military leader will remind you of Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now.” And still other scenes will evoke classic military films like “Full Metal Jacket.” There’s a lot more here than just chimps and guns.
#5: “War For the Planet of the Apes” provides tantalizing clues about what comes next
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly 50 years since the original “Planet of the Apes” movie with Charlton Heston. That movie really forced us to consider so many future scenarios, including one in which simians take over a planet that humans have somehow lost control over. How did we go from our present reality to that dim future where apes rule the planet?
This film is billed as the end of Caesar’s journey, but it does not mean that it is the end of this film franchise. There’s a clue nestled inside this movie, and it comes in the form of a young girl named Nova (planned by Amiah Miller), who may be the secret to the future of humanity. In the film, she is aided by the apes and not the humans, and that opens up all kinds of other ambiguities.
“War For the Planet of Apes” may be the last official film in the trilogy involving Caesar, but the franchise as a whole has a lot of staying power. There may still be a few more gaps to fill in before you want the “Planet of the Apes” franchise to stop.
By the end of this very thought-provoking film, you’ll be saying things like “Apes together strong” and wondering what difference – if any – exists between “good apes” and “bad humans.” That might be the real magic of this film, beyond all the truly transcendent CGI and motion capture work – forcing movie audiences to re-think what makes us truly human after all these years of evolution.