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REVIEW — “War for the Planet of the Apes”

It’s “Ape-pocalypse now” in War for the Planet of the Apes, the best installment yet in the rebooted Apes franchise.

Rise. Dawn. War. Fox’s rebooted Planet of the Apes saga stands as the gold standard for modern blockbuster movies, with War for the Planet of the Apes closing out a trio of films that will proudly pound its chest as one of the finest trilogies ever produced.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads his evolved apes in seclusion, far removed from the dwindling amount of remaining humans on the planet, seeking only for his species to be left undisturbed. But when an army of humans lay siege to the apes’ home, tragedy strikes the primate kingdom, leaving a vengeful Caesar wrestling with his darker instincts as he aims to avenge his kind. Drawn further into a personal conflict with Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), rogue leader of an army of humans striking from an abandoned quarantine zone and former weapons depot, the strife becomes a fight for survival — for both species.

War for the Planet of the Apes
Steered by the steady hands of director Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the upcoming The Batman), War for the Planet of the Apes is powerful, poignant, and captivating: for all the ape versus human warfare advertised so heavily in the trailers, War is a character-examining drama disguised as an effects-heavy blockbuster. Rich, complex themes are explored in-depth, taking precedence over any kind of action or explosions — as much as this heavily intimate conflict concerns physical confrontations, much more of an emphasis is placed on the emotional war, being waged primarily a retaliatory Caesar.

It’s easy to forget Caesar is an actor wearing digital “makeup,” brought to life by motion capture master Andy Serkis and digital effects masters Weta Digital. Caesar is at his most human come War, becoming a hostile and vindictive force of nature out to avenge losses suffered by himself and his kind, the ape leader being pushed to the brink physically and emotionally as he must contend with a new enemy set on the relentless, merciless eradication of all ape-kind. Caesar’s emotionally-driven revenge tale confronts him with many questions, the largest of all: “Does your desire for vengeance overwhelm your responsibility to your kind?” Caesar is leader, but not an infallible one — and War doesn’t flinch when it comes to the consequences.

War for the Planet of the Apes
Human colonel McCullough, like all great villains, believes he’s the hero of his own movie. His actions, though despicable, are understandable: he does what he does not only because of how he has been personally affected by the now-evolved simian virus, but because “all of human history has lead up to this moment,” he says, wholly believing that the fate of all humankind is on the line as he seeks to eliminate any and all apes — apes having been thrust into the top rung on the totem pole.

War doesn’t examine the human element as closely as Dawn — the only human on the apes’ side this time around is Nova (Amiah Miller), a young, mute girl who quickly bonds with Maurice (Karin Konoval), who I swear looks more and more real with each passing movie — putting more of the focus largely on Caesar and his apes, especially trusted circle Maurice, Rocket (Terry Notary), Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), and newcomer Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who, despite his name, is a sickly, skittish little ape who takes up for Caesar and his cause.

War for the Planet of the Apes
The cast and Weta Digital realize the apes so realistically it’s almost as scary as it is impressive; War for the Planet of the Apes is a visual feast as much as it is a satiating one, with the incredible visual effects used as a tool to tell the story instead of just pretty, computer-crafted mayhem generated in an excessive display of digital mayhem — Transformers: The Last Knight this is not.

Epic, smart, powerful, and emotional, War for the Planet of the Apes sets the bar for summer movies — this year and beyond. Good luck.

War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Judy Greer, and Amiah Miller, War for the Planet of the Apes opens July 14th.

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