War for the Planet of the Apes

Verdict: A powerful finale to one of the best trilogies of the modern era. A fantastic script, breathtaking CGI, and Oscar-worthy score require a trip to the theater.


Review

The Good: Top of the game CGI and a powerful narrative.

In 1968, Planet of the Apes was released to popular and critical acclaim. At the forefront was the film’s revolutionary make-up, as well its costuming and score, for which it received Oscar nominations. The score in particular remains memorable to this day, using percussion and violin to create unusual and eerie feelings, helping to create the feeling of an alien world. The result was a film that is largely considered one of the greatest of its genre, and is consistently listed on Top 100 films lists.

The incredible achievements of its predecessor film makes the success of War for the Planet of the Apes all the more impressive. 49 years has changed the technology, but not the basic elements. Planet had costuming and makeup; War has some of the best CGI ever produced. Caesar and his fellow apes are nigh indistinguishable from their real life source. The motion capture used – and mastered – by Andy Serkis is astonishing, bringing an before-unseen level of emotion and depth to a computer generated face.

Also like PlanetWar has the best score of the new trilogy, utilizing similar abstract percussion and string pieces to bring an alien quality to the world. Each song feels perfectly in tune with the tone of the film. They cannot be separated. For reference, think of most music from big modern blockbusters; generally similar pieces meant to invoke the same general feelings. Not here. Composer Michael Giacchino (Up) has created something truly unique.

The score is integral to creating the alien world the film succeeds in invoking. But unlike its predecessor, the world of War is not technically alien; it’s northern California. And this theme – the alienation of the formerly human run world – works perfectly within this narrative. This is world, one in which humans are the endangered species, is not an sci-fi concept of a world turned upside down. Instead, it’s a bleak reality of the future. And those who inherit it, in this case the apes, pick through those remains with fascination and horror.

At the same time, War also tackles some very familiar issues, sometimes subtly, and sometimes not. Included in this is indigenous displacement and genocide, the prison system and its use of legalized slavery, and the dangers of religious-military conflation. The films ability to comment on these subjects through both visuals and/or dialogue, while still balancing the overall franchise narrative and Caesar’s character development, speaks volumes to Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback’s script.

The Bad: Nothing worth noting.

Seriously. You’re welcome to comment and let me know, but it’s hard to think of one. Well paced, fantastic script, great development, impeccable CGI…this is as good as it gets for blockbusters.

The Ugly: Where’s the women? Also, indigenous narratives as alien.

This is one of the best franchises of the modern era. And it doesn’t get nearly enough attention. That being said, it does fall short in a very important area: there’s almost no women. Between the three films, there are only two major human women (Freida Pinto and Keri Russell) and two major female apes (Judy Greer and Sara Canning). All four roles are largely inconsequential to the plots of their films. And there’s no real reason why larger, more consequential parts couldn’t have gone to women.

Now for the indigenous narratives of the film: they are largely visual, and done incredibly well, as they were in Dawn. What I hope is that some studio, any studio, looks at the trend of films with these narratives ( _ of the ApesAvatar) and realizes a hard truth: we have had more films with indigenous narratives that are about aliens, or non-humans in general, than those about and starring indigenous humans. And that’s ridiculous.


Synopsis: “In the third installment of the Planet of the Apes prequel series — which depicts the events that led to the primates taking control of Earth — simian leader Caesar (played via motion capture by Andy Serkis) is horrified when his family are killed during an attack by humans on his community. Caesar soon plots revenge on the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), the human military leader behind the assault, which threatens to ignite all-out war between the two species. Directed by Matt Reeves.” ~ Jack Rodgers, Rovi

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