War for the Planet of the Apes

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Release date: 11th July 2017/Watch the trailer here

The rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise is a strange one. Financially successful, critically acclaimed and with each entry in the trilogy remaining consistent in their high quality; yet it’s a franchise that no one seems to talk about. Most people just don’t get excited about a new Planet of the Apes movie in the same way that they do with the latest offerings from Marvel or Star Wars. Still, the box office numbers – steadily increasing with each film – indicate that people are watching these movies, and it’s a good thing that they are. War for the Planet of the Apes closes the trilogy in the rarest way possible: with a film that’s not only as good as the first, but even better (although perhaps not as good as the second, 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).

Picking up more or less where Dawn left off, War sees Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his fellow apes drawn into a violent conflict with an army of humans, led by their ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson). After suffering a series of devastating losses, Caesar sets off on his own journey to avenge the apes, meeting a mute human child named Nova (Amiah Miller), and Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a lone primate that once lived in a zoo, along the way.

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Unusually for the last film in a franchise, War for the Planet of the Apes is not as much about the final showdown between apes and mankind as the title would suggest. It’s definitely present, but the satisfyingly big and explosion-filled battle acts as more of a backdrop to the central struggle between Caesar and the Colonel, as Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts. This isn’t the only diversion from the norm that War for the Planet of the Apes follows: not least because this is a film which is convincing its audience to choose the side of the apes over that of our own species.

From the very beginning, with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the franchise has always been regarded as something of a great technical achievement, and with good reason: the work that Serkis and his fellow actors do with motion capture is nothing short of spectacular. It’s all too easy to forget that you’re watching humans in funny suits and not living, breathing apes, such is the incredible quality of the visual effects on display here. Yet what’s also amazing is that not only is this a big-budget, summer blockbuster with hardly any human characters, it’s also a big-budget, summer blockbuster with hardly any spoken dialogue. Caesar and some of the other apes have learned how to speak over the course of the films, but most converse in sign-language instead. With the addition of the voiceless Nova to the cast, it’s remarkable to see a film that communicates so much with so little. Lingering close-ups allow eyes and facial expressions to say far more than words possibly could.

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Of course, War for the Planet of the Apes has its flaws, but the sheer amount that it achieves makes it possible to overlook them. The story here is an engrossing and well-told one, but also one that’s dark enough to possibly explain why this franchise isn’t as popular as it deserves to be. It’s staggering to see a summer blockbuster tackling such shocking imagery; from themes of slavery and a concentration camp-like setting to the surprising amount of the plot that not-so-subtly borrows from biblical stories.

That’s not to say that War for the Planet of the Apes isn’t a fun, entertaining popcorn movie, however, because it almost certainly is – it just also happens to be a popcorn film with an astonishing amount of emotion and intelligence, especially for a time of year that tends to be saturated with giant robots destroying cities. War neatly wraps up the central narrative that ran across the trilogy, but there’s also a hint of more to come – and with this franchise, perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

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