Caesar's back with a vengeance in what quite possibly is the best of the Apes reboot saga so far, and, without a doubt, 2017's best new offering. God damn this is a good movie.
In all honesty, I have very little to say about War for the Planet of the Apes, apart from discerning strands of my immediate reaction on coming out of the cinema, which hasn’t changed even a little bit. And that would, probably, be best summed up by a long, muddled strand of ‘holyshitholyshitholyshit’. With War, Matt Reeves (of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Cloverfield fame) has created a truly satisfying blockbuster, perhaps the best of the bunch 2017’s summer pickings has to offer. Perhaps even the best of the Apes reboot saga so far.
We pick up two years after the events of Dawn: the apes have taken up base in the woods, regularly battling the slew of soldiers that come their way to which a now stern and belligerent Caesar (Andy Serkis) shows tactful mercy for. The film’s opening alone is enough to label it as stupendous, honestly. Tracking gently through the sunken bushes, it’s hard to tell immediately who we’re following; it’s apes, then it’s humans, then it’s both, before we’re flung into the midst of a full-blown attack. Everything happens at once and with staggering hysteria. Good for you, Reeves, you put The Revenant to shame.
After his wife and eldest son are killed in a surprise attack led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), Caesar takes it upon himself to enact something resembling vengeance on their attacker. Still haunted by the wrongdoings of Koba from the previous film (which leads to some affecting suggestions of PTSD related strain), he wrestles with his darker instincts against what it means to have mercy in the barbarous world he fronts. “You’re so emotional,” the Colonel spits at Caesar in one excellently scripted confrontation between the pair, cementing the paradoxical parallel the saga has been teasing all along. A culmination of its gradually cultivating maturity, War expertly intertwines its suggestions of family, parenthood and responsibility into the big, emotional Humanity™ question it’s been locking horns with since 2011’s Rise. It’s all very thematic.
Even the apes’ newfound capacity for speech is opposed with the inclusion of muteness as viral mutation in humans, as we discover through Nova (Amiah Miller), a mute war orphan Caesar’s group find en route. It’s an impressive execution of a novel idea; a comparison between the use of speech and its associations to question humanity’s fundamentals against the use of eyes, or vision, is tempting – the latter which, I bet, you’re faced with a lot more. Think Blade Runner, Psycho, American Beauty, even Coraline. Reeves, so enigmatic and ambiguous about Cloverfield’s monster, makes it pretty damn clear who the brute is in War, and humanity has nothing to do with it.
And with all this raging depth and discernment, it’s impressive to see it matched with heart racing action and jaw dropping spectacle without either one overshadowed. It’s everything a summer blockbuster should be, and everything a second sequel usually isn’t. This is, without a doubt, the Dark Knight of the Apes saga. It’s the Logan of the series so far, without the hard-hitting finality. In fact, small, generally mute child in tow, tired, jaded hero up front; War couldn’t be more like Logan if it sprouted claws and played a rehash of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’ on repeat. Seeing it in 4DX was brilliant. God damn it was brilliant. But 4DX or not, War still stands as a brilliant piece of cinematic expertise, showcases Reeves’ distinct and mature indulgence as a writer and director, and, over 24 hours, several impassioned conversations, and 1 review later, has still left me in the same state:
War for the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Reeves, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox, Certificate 12a.