Review: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ 2017 (the final judgment)

As remakes go, the end of this impressive trilogy proves there was a reason it needed to exist.

Fifteen years after gaining intelligence in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and leading his non-human tribe to power in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis) is now at war with mankind. The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) employs apathetic apes like Red (Ty Olsson), referred to as “Donkey” by the soldiers but tolerated to help destroy his own kind. Caesar plans to relocate his clan away from the woods toward a new home, far out of the reach of any soldiers. Unfortunately, the Simian Flu that imbued intelligence to apes and destroyed billions of humans has mutated, and what remains of man has become a desperate and dangerous animal indeed.

Following the regrettable 2001 Tim Burton Planet of the Apes remake with Mark Wahlberg, a bold idea was launched to start at the beginning, showing the folly of man giving rise to their replacement as Earth’s dominant species. Instead of merely the struggle of war, the main character must reconcile his memory of the human who cared for him and those who wish to see him and ape-kind destroyed. With the doom of humanity at hand and the sting of betrayal still lingering, can Caesar save his family and his people without becoming the enemy they hope to rise above?

As the third and (presumably) final installment of this re-imagined series, there’s no greater evidence that consideration for awards are needed regarding motion-capture performance. Andy Serkis has pioneered the art, from Gollum in The Lord of the Rings to King Kong himself, and even holds classes to teach others how to best work with the technology bringing all-CGI characters to life. If these films were only about the imagery and battle, they might not have mattered, but changing the point of view from the humans to the apes has made all the difference, where the emotion behind the technology applies. While the word “war” is featured in the title, it’s a curious thing to observe the consequence of war as it consumes its participants — more so when the best solution is to step out of the way.

The collateral damage among humans takes its toll as survivors are found along the way. Amiah Miller’s character, for example has no place in battle, an alone little girl essentially doomed as humans go, calling attention the moral dilemma by the apes to become more than their oppressors. It’s what sets great science fiction apart from another Michael Bay Transformers movie: decisions having real benefits and consequences that may not be readily apparent. As evil as mankind becomes, it’s the sown seeds of its own destruction that feels mortal, creating empathetic characters even when they deserve none.

Effects should serve the story, and while they may be outstanding, it should never be forgot that story creates the necessity. It’s telling that War won an 2018 Annie Award for “Outstanding Achievement for Character Animation in a Live Action Production.” Someone gets it out there; here’s hoping the rest will come along eventually.

War for the Planet of the Apes is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, some disturbing images, and rendering unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.

Four skull recommendation out of four

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