"War For The Planet Of The Apes" Review

For a summer filled with fast paced, loud, thinly developed character blockbusters...War For The Planet of The Apes is the exact opposite! It’s an emotional roller coaster of a character drama, sprinkled with just the right amount of action, led by a stellar cast and driven by a director who knows what he’s doing. Let’s not forget that this is the third installment in a trilogy that continues to build on itself with films that are just as good as its predecessor!

After an epic battle that tore the apes apart in more ways than one in Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is wrestling with his emotions. With the apes hiding in the forest, a group of soldiers have their scopes set on the simians that they view as a threat to their existence. Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is the merciless leader of the soldiers and he’s bent on taking Caesar out. After tragedy strikes, Caesar is just as focused on the Colonel.

The new school Planet of The Apes films have always been a character study of who we are deep down as human beings. Our morality is what makes us, and it’s explored beautifully through the apes. Where the prior films had a little bit more balance between humans and apes on screen, this installment is certainly ape heavy. But that’s fine, because stripped of heavy dialogue, this movie focuses on themes like love, family, sacrifice, justice and mercy. These subjects are matters that we wrestle with at the core of our being. It’s displayed magnificently here and you can certainly identify with the character struggles in the film. 

Andy Serkis is one of the great motion capture actors of our time. He crushes this role once again as Caesar! Caesar is a deep thinker who always has to think ten steps ahead to protect his kind, while leading them at the same time. Serkis is able to physically show that throughout the entire film in a way that grabs a hold of you and won’t let go. There are also great motion capture performances from Karin Konoval as Maurice, Terry Notary as Rocket, and Michael Adamthwaite as Luca. You have to tip your hat to the entire team for what they’re able to bring to life through technology in creating believable, relatable ape characters.

The sound and score of the film is an ever present character as well. Whether it’s the grunt and breathing of the apes, or the timpani pounding on your heartstring; the music and sound in War can not be denied. It’s moving.

Co-Writer/Director Matt Reeves is in command of his camera much like Caesar is the apes. He frames the film in such a way that captures the performances and accentuates what’s happening in the story in an effort to push it forward. Mark Bomback gets a nod as well in co-writing the film with Reeves to create a strong screenplay. I just have to re-emphasize that this is the third at bat and there is nothing “dialed in” about it. 

I did have some issues with certain characters in the film. Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape has a minority vibe to him that doesn’t sit right as the lovable idiot comic relief. Also, Amiah Miller’s Nova could have been played by any girl of a different race, but we’re stuck with the embodiment of innocence being that of a blonde white girl. It’s not that blonde white girls can’t be the embodiment of innocence, it’s just the repetitive nature of it in films that sends a message. Yeah, I opened that door. The film also had interesting parallels to the slave narrative we’ve seen in our country, right down to the in-fighting amongst slaves. That’s not necessarily a negative thing about the movie, but an interesting theme that is explored but not fully developed into making a statement.

Outside of those foibles that can be looked past for the larger experience, War of The Planet of The Apes is certainly an experience. It’s a great time at the movies because it has something to say about who we are and how we treat each other. This is certainly the film to see this weekend, and will be talked about in film circles for the rest of the year!

Rating: A

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.