In a cinematic market so crowded and overstuffed with reboots and sequels it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd. However, a silver lining in recent years is the Planet of the Apes reboot/prequel franchise, concluding this year with War for the Planet of the Apes.

This year, director Matt Reeves - returning after taking the franchise helm over from Rupert Wyatt after 2011’s Rise for Dawn - brings us the conclusion to this trilogy with promise of answers to those questions posed in the concluding moments of 2014’s sequel. And it’s a triumph. War for the Planet of the Apes is a taut, emotional, and truly 'epic’ film that matches - if not supersedes - both its predecessors blow for blow to round off what is now easily one of the best trilogies of the 21st Century - one of the best of all-time. The title may boast promise of a “war” but, at its core, like both Rise and Dawn, this is a character piece, with nuance and emotional depth permeating every second of its runtime. Caesar (Andy Serkis) is, once again, at the heart of the story, continuing to try and lead a peaceful survival for himself and the other Apes. However, he finds himself having to make some difficult choices when the humans, led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), threaten not only their peace, but their existence entirely.
Of course, the visuals in War are astounding. The film has a much bleaker aesthetic than prior instalments, with a use of more darker and greyer hues and a more drab colour palette, however it still looks gorgeous. The cinematography is stunning, capturing shots that feel cold, brutal and warlike. War constantly blends impressive lighting with its environments to create imagery that is brutally beautiful, and the motion-capture work, from the genius of WETA, is - expectedly - astonishing. Once again, the CGI is unequivocal and masterful; the level of detail and craft to bring these Apes to life is remarkable and it blends so seamlessly. It’s such breathtaking work; so much so that we quickly forget we’re watching the creation of computers and invest and immerse ourselves into the visual experience that War and WETA have to offer.

However, Reeves has created a film that is so multi-layered beyond just a visual spectacle. This is also a film that is as intelligent and mature as it is visually arresting; the writing here - from Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback - is astute and genius. The screenplay does such a stellar job of creating such - ironically - human characters in these Apes and in Caesar. We find ourselves enraptured by them and by this world, in their struggle and in their conquest for peace. They're superbly realised; so real and genuine. On the other hand, we have the humans. The screenplay doesn't craft them as antagonists, though, and we understand their viewpoint too; it’s a difficult moral conflict and the screenplay relishes in toying with us, morally torn between these two factions at odds - this moral conflict plays central to the core story and it’s a rich and relevant exploration.
The plethora of incredible performances on offer here too only anchor these characters and this conflict all the more. Andy Serkis delivers another masterful turn as Caesar - scarred by the events of Rise and Dawn we saw him go through - now a broken leader now, struggling to stay hopeful (like in his earlier years) and Serkis brings a real pain and sobriety to Caesar here this time around that is every bit as deserved of Academy attention as whatever latest role DiCaprio is mulling over; he disappears into the role completely, delivering a truly awe-inspired performance. Woody Harrelson matches him blow for blow too - a terrific new addition to the cast - his Colonel so baleful yet conflicted; we can feel his past torment and experience haunting his every move, to blame for his distrust with the apes and for his hungry desperation to survive. And the pair get some great support from the likes of Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval (great as always as Maurice - the levity in these dark films) and Amiah Miller too.

Rise started this franchise on a whim, proving to be a frantically entertaining Summer blockbuster. Dawn took the story one step further - in a darker, more nuanced direction - and War continues this still, with Reeves cranking up the emotion, the cut-throat character tension, the spectacle and the heart and pulling it all off with such masterful conviction and aplomb. War for the Planet of the Apes is a near-masterpiece - perhaps let down by some meandering of the story towards the middle act. This is a soulful, sobering film that is emotionally charged and riveting; it’s a technical, storytelling and filmmaking achievement, balancing jaw-shattering spectacle with intelligent, compelling writing to create a deeply stirring and provocative blockbuster that is genuinely an astounding, visceral triumph.

VERDICT:
War for the Planet of the Apes is a soulful, intelligent and jaw-dropping achievement that brings a walloping conclusion to one of the best trilogies put to screen.

About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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