A global pandemic has decimated the human population. A species of genetically enhanced apes has assumed the role of dominant species. An uprising has shattered the fragile peace separating these two factions, starting a full-scale conflict that threatens to destroy the world.
This is the universe depicted in 20th Century Fox’s reboot of the “Planet of the Apes” film franchise, which began in 2011 with “Rise” and continued in 2014 with “Dawn”. It’s a universe that breathed fresh air into a tired genre and provoked a much-needed discussion on human nature. It’s a universe that leaves us wondering who will win the battle for this post-apocalyptic Earth.
“War for the Planet of the Apes,” an incisive science fiction film written and directed by Matt Reeves, is both the culmination of our wondering and the answer to this question.
It’s been two years since the events of “Dawn”, two years since the fighting broke out. Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads said fight from a hidden command base in California’s Muir Woods as he grapples with the dual challenge of protecting his people and advocating for a peaceful resolution. He’s starting to realize, however, that peace is no longer an option.
Several apes loyal to the treacherous Koba (Toby Kebbell) – who died in “Dawn” but reappears in a minor capacity – have defected to join Alpha-Omega, a paramilitary organization created from the surviving remnants of the U.S. Armed Forces. To make matters worse, Alpha-Omega’s leader, an iron-fisted Special Forces Colonel (Woody Harrelson), has made it his mission to eradicate the ape population and will stop at nothing to achieve this sinister goal.
Determined to prevent further loss of life, Caesar works with his remaining loyalists to relocate the ape clan to a new home located across the desert. But when an unprecedented assault sends shockwaves throughout both factions, he takes matters into his own hands and embarks on a quest to confront the Colonel at Alpha-Omega’s Northern stronghold. Unbeknownst to Caesar, his actions inadvertently set a series of dangerous events in motion and promise to forever change the laws of nature.
Mr. Serkis steals the show yet again as Caesar, exuding an inner strength that becomes more palpable throughout the film. He remains resolute in his mission despite the fact that the odds are constantly stacked against him, staring his enemies straight in the eye and speaking in a voice that captures determination in its rawest form.
Mr. Harrelson is, to be frank, terrifying as the Colonel. So terrifying, in fact, that he could almost pass for Marlon Brando’s fanatical Colonel Kurtz. He can be intimidating whenever the script needs him to be and his onscreen presence is enough to make you pee your pants. My only criticism is that his monologue about ensuring humanity’s survival feels a tad trite. But other than that, Mr. Harrelson’s performance is one-half of the film’s high point.
The other half goes to newcomer Amiah Miller, who portrays a young war orphan Caesar comes across during his travels, and comedian Steve Zahn, who portrays a chimpanzee referring to himself as Bad Ape. Their performances were so moving that you can’t help but feel for them. In my opinion, both Ms. Miller and Mr. Zahn have great potential and I hope to see more of her in the future.
With a plot heavy on character interaction, Mr. Reeves makes the poignant decision to keep the dialogue at a minimum. This allows the actors, who scarcely say a word to one another, to let their facial expressions and body language do all the talking. As a result, you become more aware of the sights and sounds seen throughout the film. Be it the snowflakes covering the ruins of a mountain lodge or the cascading rush of the waterfall concealing Caesar’s command base, every minute detail further immerses us in the dystopian world.
As most reviewers do, I won’t tell you how “War for the Planet of the Apes” all ends. But the final sequence is enough to bring Caesar’s story to its rightful conclusion and make you wonder what the future holds for his fellow apes.