By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
Co-writer and director Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) is brilliant pop culture cinema; brooding, emotive, intelligent and intense. The one-hundred and forty-minute feature, a 20th Century Fox distribution release, is a triumphant marriage of state of the art effects and an unwaveringly grim tone. This is made further effective by the often bold, high-potency storyline. These components are blended seamlessly. Such makes for rousing entertainment. It also creates a singular and immersive world; one that cinema patrons will be delighted to become immersed within. The pacing is smart. Additionally, the picture benefits from Michael Seresin’s lush cinematography. Such makes the heart-tugging civility disclosed in our simian protagonists in this Apocalypse Now (1979) and Platoon (1986) inspired epic evermore stellar.
After a beautifully executed and claustrophobic opening sequence that showcases the first word in the title of the endeavor in full swing, Reeves follows our primate hero, Caeser (Andy Serkis). This is as he and his crew become imprisoned by a militant group of Caeser’s foes. The leader of this opposing power is a cruel, unsympathetic figure. He is simply named The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The treatment Caeser and his partners suffer at the hands of The Colonel and his squad compel Caeser to combat his own anger. But, soon an uprising is sparked. The outcome of which will determine who will become the dominant force on Earth.
Though not as science-minded as Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), this third entry in the rebooted series is undoubtedly the best. Serkis and Harrelson are superb. The segments they share on-screen are electric. They are palpable in their dramatic resonance. Likewise, Steve Zane’s Bad Ape character is one of the most memorable entities found herein. His presence adds welcome touches of humor to this otherwise no-nonsense affair. Amiah Miller is also a standout. This is in her powerful, wordless enactment as the deaf Nova. She is a young woman who is taken into the care of Caeser’s tribe in the initial half of the venture.
Reeves’s guidance of the project is breathtaking. The uniquely structured script Reeves penned with Mark Bomback is well-mounted, daring and thoughtful. It continues the events in Rise and its excellent follow-up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), brilliantly. This is with little that feels like a retread. The noticeably darker lens through which Reeves tells his tale this time around lays the foundation for this assessment. The feature also ends as well as it begins. This is with a gorgeously erected scene that is as uplifting as it is sorrowful. The result is that increasingly rare Hollywood blockbuster that engages while making you think and feel. Of all the films I’ve seen this year, War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the most human.
(PG-13). Contains violence, adult themes and disturbing images.