Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes is a weird property. The whole concept is strange and I never really had  much interest in it before this trilogy. By the time Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was made, CGI tech was up to the task of creating realistic non-human characters, and I admit the main reason I bothered to see Dawn was Andy Serkis. And I loved it.

So in the first film a lab attempting to cure Alzheimer’s (if I remember correctly) is making its test animals – various species of ape) really smart. Somehow their formula morphs into a virus which kills off humans in vast numbers while making other apes, like those in zoos, really smart. Ceasar (Andy Serkis) is a lab ape who has been taught sign language and he finds himself leading the Apes to freedom.

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes we find the human survivors living in a compound, much of their technology gone, while Ceasar and his apes followers live among the redwoods. But not everyone wants to live in peace. Koba, who was badly mistreated by humans, wants to punish them and enough humans have similar feelings toward the Apes that fighting breaks out. Which leads us to War…

Ceasar has come to the conclusion that peace isn’t going to be possible and has scouts out looking for a new place the Apes can settle. Meanwhile human soldiers scour the wood searching for the place the Apes sleep. Things come to a head when the soldiers launch an attack and several of Ceasar’s family are killed.  Ceasar orders the Apes to start the journey to their new home but, convinced the war cannot end as long as the human he only knows as The Colonel is out there, sets off on a mission of his own. He is joined by his closest friends who will not let him go alone.

I won’t tell the whole plot. What I will say is that I found more feeling and humanity in those CGI apes in the first act of War than I did in the whole of Dunkirk (which I reviewed a few days ago). This is a deeply human and emotional story at the same time as being a fascinatingly plausible version of the end of humanity.

The apes find a little girl who cannot speak, though she certainly does communiate. Later we learn that some other humans have lost the ability to speak. The Colonel believes, apparently with zero actual evidence, that this is a variation of the virus that killed off most humans. He describes the victims as savages but those we encounter are not savage: they are just people who can’t speak. The inference is that the humans are becoming apes and the apes are becoming human. Certainly the Apes have most human characteristics: they ride horses, use guns, many can talk, some even wear clothing. And they behave and feel as humans, too.

Ceasar is driven by his need to avenge his family, but he is not consumed by it. He doesn’t lose his compassion or his fierce determination to protect the apes. His vengeance is a new facet on top of that, which means he never becomes a charicature or a cliche. He knows that his hatred is changing him; he has dreams or visions of Koba, warning him of how hate can become madness. And in the end, he makes the right choice as the full shape of madness is revealed.

The CGI is incredible. Only the eyes – most of the apes have distinctly human-like eyes – give away that they are not real. All of the ape characters are amazing performances from the actors; its a real pity that they won’t get the full credit they deserve; when we can’t truly see the actor, we tend to give the animators more credit, forgetting that every gesture, every facial expression has been motion-captured and the CGI is built on that. I genuinely believe Andy Serkis deserves awards for this one.

A powerful conclusion to the trilogy. Recommended.