The third prequel/reboot to 1968's Planet of the Apes, rounds off the Caesar's story while laying the path back to the original movie. The franchise has been a constant hit with both critics and audiences and over the last few instalments watching Caesar – motion-captured superbly by Andy Serkis – as leader of a new species of ape during the decline of humanity as a result of the Simian virus has never been less than captivating. The subtext of animal cruelty, testing, racism and imperialism is still present in War, but is downplayed more here and instead it focuses more on Caesar's personal narrative arc.
Taking place two years after Dawn, the toll of war has greyed Caesar but given him and an aura of determination. Of course not all things are going well, Caesar has to deal with ape-deserters, who are accepted by the human army and in return for safety and information on the Ape hideout. Woody Harrelson joins as Colonel McCullough; the leader of the US army’s remnants. Colonel McCullough’s war is to protect his species, losing touch with his humanity in the process; on the other side of the coin Caesar grapples with the deep well of pain within himself and must consider whether Koba (the previous films’ antagonist) was right to hate humans. When Caesar goes to confront Colonel McCullough to protect his tribe with loyal friends Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), picking up a mute girl, Nova (Amiah Miller) and “Bad Ape” (Steve Zahn) along the way.
Directed by Matt Reeves, the cinematography is tight and opulent in equal measure. He puts the performances first, drawing on The Bridge over the River Kwai, The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Ten Commandments to name a few. Usually dialogue-free, the apes grunt and use sign-language to an emotive score conveying layered performances even underneath the CGI.
A blockbuster so entertaining that you’ll forget the excessive runtime, War of the Planet of the Apes still suffers a little in setting up its connection to the original movie and the prequels. But in its effort to break away with a self-contained story manages a strong end to a strong trilogy. And one you don’t want to miss.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam
War of the Planet of the Apes is out in cinemas on July 11, 2017