So, to recap. Spoilers ahead for the previous films in the series.
RISE Of The Planet Of The Apes was the one with James Franco, that blonde one from Harry Potter and Caesar as a little baby ape. Franco’s character Will is conducting experiments in order to find a cure for dementia, Caesar gains superior intelligence as a result and is raised by Will, only to end up locked up, breaking free and starting an ape revolution.
DAWN Of The Planet Of The Apes sees Caesar all grown up, humans almost wiped out by simian flu, and living in the woods leading a large group of apes. They run into a remaining group of humans, fellow ape Koba goes a bit evil and the opposing tribes of apes end up having a big fight whilst defending themselves against Gary Oldman‘s clan of survivors.
And now, here we are, watching the WAR For The Planet Of The Apes. All caught up?
The film does give you a handy synopsis of the recent films in this franchise so far as it opens – and we see it pick back up with the apes, still led by Caesar, in hiding from a troop of soldiers sent by Woody Harrelson‘s mildly psychotic Colonel to hunt them down. As the apes are increasingly threatened and fight to be left in peace, we discover there’s more to the virus that wiped out most of mankind than first thought.
After the apes suffer tragic loss, Caesar goes on a journey to hunt down Harrelson’s Colonel, and comes across a young orphan (played by brilliant newcomer Amiah Miller). She joins their clan, reluctantly accepted by Caesar, and what follows is a somewhat mixed bag that packs the emotional punches, even if it doesn’t always deliver in terms of plot and structure.
First things first – the CGI is absolutely breathtaking, astounding, and any other hyperbolic adjective that springs to mind. The realism that the team have managed to create with the ape characters is like nothing else we’ve seen before on screen. Every crease of the eyes, every raindrop on their fur, every arm movement and breathy word is perfectly captured as though it were actual simians delivering the script. It’s astonishingly realistic and can’t be overstated – the technology use here is an incredible achievement, and indicates exciting possibilities for the stories we can tell in the future as the capabilities of CGI continue to advance.
The performance capture is also remarkable – Andy Serkis returns as Caesar and does a stellar job, as do the rest of the ape cast. The emotion that the performers and effects are able to convey are far better than those we see from any of the humans involved, and all of the gutwrenching moments come from Caesar and his tribe – there’s everything from uplifting, to heartbreaking, to genuinely funny. This kind of film is an example of how calls for a Performance Capture category at awards season could be justified in the future, if we continue to see characters depicted in this way.
Woody Harrelson is always a pleasure to watch, but his villain here is a little uneven. He comes across as just an obsessed megalomaniac with a horrifying backstory but no real depth, and the way the Colonel is used to drive the plot is really weak.
There’s a scene around halfway through the film where there’s a whole lot of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ just to heave the story along, but it feels seriously clunky and ends up taking you out of the story rather than helping you understand it. It’s a shame, because the stuff either side of this does work pretty well – the first half especially – though the final act didn’t reach the heights of the previous film.
Where it’s predecessor excelled at growing in tension before a fantastic final conflict, War For The Planet Of The Apes just feels like it’s trying to be too many films in one – a war movie, an escape movie, a road trip – but there wasn’t enough of each for it to coalesce.
This is a five star film in terms of leaps forward for CGI, but only gets 3 stars overall. The ape characters and interactions hold it together, but it doesn’t quite land as a whole.
War For The Planet Of The Apes is out on DVD now.