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Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes


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It seems that the Planet of the Apes franchise just gets better and better. War for the Planet of the Apes is easily the best of the Apes trilogy, boasting a fantastic narrative, multi-layered characters, complexity and emotional depth.

Right from the offset, War for the Planet of the Apes grabs you and doesn’t let go until the very end. Director Matt Reeves excels in taking War one notch higher after the success of Dawn, bringing a level of raw emotion and unpredictability that just isn’t common in block buster movies.

Following on from the events of Dawn, the Apes, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), have been at war with the humans, and continue to suffer heavy losses. The war becomes a personal battle for Caesar as he channels his darker side to directly confront The Colonel (Woody Harrelson).

While each film in the Apes trilogy was undoubtedly made with the intention of the audience having greatest sympathy for the Apes over humans, War leaves no room for uncertainty about where loyalties lie, as the entirety of the narrative is carried by the experiences and actions of the Apes.

The familial and emotional intricacies of the Apes is witnessed on a deeply personal level which make the stakes so much higher during the war as we are gripped by the close bonds so early on.

Herein lies another of the film’s great strengths. While the film’s title suggests all-out warfare, meaning a mostly predictable narrative, the nature of this war is not as you would imagine, and instead of repetitive battle sequences, Reeves leaves room for exploration of more delicate aspects of the narrative. For the large part, the nature of the war is more characteristic of guerrilla warfare (pardon the pun).

Because of this attention to detail, nothing in the narrative is rushed. And this detail can also be seen in the homages to classic films such as Apocalypse Now and The Great Escape. With the film featuring a journey of self discovery into the heart of darkness, discovering a leader figure who has taken matters into his own hands, very much mirroring Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse now, War sets itself aside as a unique war film in the same way Apocalypse Now did. And with an absolutely enthralling prison sequence, the references to The Great Escape are self-explanatory.

Moreover, throughout the film, new aspects of the narrative are gradually revealed, keeping it thoroughly gripping throughout. However, The Colonel’s spotlight scene manages to all too conveniently explain the over-arching plot which has been partly a mystery to viewers. And while The Colonel’s manipulative nature does make you question your loyalties and beliefs about the film’s back story, there was potential to do so much more with this scene.

This, along with Woody Harrelson’s performance is a let down, with Harrelson being limited in his villain persona. With the acting ability that man has, there was so much more potential to portray The Colonel as an erratic, unpredictable and genuinely terrifying villain. But this script and performance didn’t quite cut it for him.

Similarly, a few scenes did feel slightly off, with the emotional tone it aimed for not being authentic and feeling slightly forced. Nevertheless, the emotion is still present throughout, aided by the raw and powerful performance of Andy Serkis.

Enhanced also by an authoritative score which puts fear, dread and anticipation in the pit of your stomach, this is not simply background music.

War for the Planet of the Apes is an outstanding addition to the Apes franchise, bringing with it so many fantastic qualities which make the film unpredictable, moving, and totally enthralling.

War for the Planet of the Apes is out Tuesday 11th July, distributed through 20th Century Fox.

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