Trilogies are commonplace in the modern movie world. Whenever a franchise is announced around a certain property, audiences tend to assume that they’re going to be getting a trilogy. What we’ve also noticed is that during these trilogies there is typically one movie that lands up being the let down. That movie is usually the third film. If we exclude the exceptions like Lord of the Rings and Toy Story, a majority of the biggest trilogies of all time have stumbled or at least dipped in quality by the time the third movie came around.
This is what makes Planet of the Apes such a special franchise. Instead of dipping in quality, it has found a way to one up its previous installments both times. What’s the secret? Well there are a lot of aspects to praise about this franchise as a whole, but it all starts with…
What makes this franchise stand out from a lot of the other big budget films is Caesar. Instead of following typical big budget trends, Planet of the Apes has given us three movies that are driven by this one character.
In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we get the origin story of Caesar. We get the foundation in which his character is built on. We understand his perspective on humans and his fellow apes. These things plant the seeds for the following movie to capitalize on and push his character arc even further.
In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, We pick up 10 years after the first film and find Caesar who is now a more experienced leader. The type of civilization he’s begun to build is directly influenced by the events of the previous film. What also shows is his naivety toward humans and the apes he holds so dear.
While Rise was shown as an origin story, Dawn was presented as a lesson for Caesar. Koba showed him that apes can be just as evil as the humans he tries so desperately not to be like. He also learned that there are more humans out there that are good natured. The apes don’t trust humans, and why should they? But Caesar was raised by a human so he’s the only one in the group that really knows what it’s like to have that connection with them.
In War for the Planet of the Apes, we go even further into the future where now Caesar is a bit older and more worn out. The events we were told about at the conclusion of Dawn are now a reality, yet Caesar retains his stance that all out war is unnecessary because his only concern is that his people live. After a certain event occurs, Caesar understands that turning away from this War isn’t possible anymore. He understands that recent events have changed him. He often times has to face some harsh truths about himself while on his journey. It’s fantastic that even in a movie with war in the title, they’ve chosen to still keep things 100% focused on Caesar. His story here is at times depressing to witness because of these introspective explorations he’s forced to undergo.
For Caesar to shine as well as he did, he would need a great antagonist to play off of. Luckily, they got a fantastic villain the second they decided to cast…
Through this franchise we’ve seen some fantastic supporting human characters come about. In Rise, Will (played by James Franco) was an excellent character. He was (and to an extent still is) Caesar’s tie to humanity. For every Ape that screamed that humans are horrible (especially Koba), Caesar is always able to point to Will as an exception to that statement. In Dawn, Malcolm (played by Jason Clarke) was able to bring back that faith in humanity, and Dreyfus (played by Gary Oldman) was a pretty realistic look at a person trying to keep it together after most of the human race had been wiped out. He represents the desperation in humanity while not exactly being a bad person. He shows that there is a moral grey area that people are occupying during these events. Good and evil is not always easily defined.
In War, Woody Harrelson who plays a character simply named The Colonel, is the perfect next step in that desperation shown in Dawn. His goal is to wipe out the apes before they wipe the humans out. It may seem cliche, but when he explains his motivations at length, it’s hard to not see where he’s coming from with his logic. Of course there is enough crazy sprinkled in this explanation, which keeps the audience from ever rooting for him. It’s that balance of understanding his perspective, but not agreeing with the way he chose to handle it, that made him a great villain and a compelling character.
There are so many ideas bounced between Caesar and The Colonel, that it would be easy for this movie to feel clustered and unfocused. It never felt that way because of…
He has been an absolute revelation for this franchise ever since he signed on to direct Dawn. When the franchise decided to shift its tone to something much darker and grim, Reeves was able to come in and maintain that tone for two straight movies. That is what I appreciate about his directing the most.
In War, he decided to risk this focused tone with the inclusion of the new ape simply named Bad Ape. Even though the crowd was laughing whenever he was on screen, it never felt like the movie had switched to comedy hour and it never distracted from the heavy weighted circumstances of the narrative.
All of these set pieces are absolutely gorgeous too. There are a few glorious wide shots of vibrant scenery which compliment the darker look that the movie has for most of its run time. There are also very few action set pieces in the entire film, but they’re also executed with extreme precision.
Visual storytelling was a key component for this film. There are key events that occur that are explained in a single camera shot. There are also visual metaphors that are there for us to draw parallels between the apes and humans. There’s religious imagery along side allusions of past events in human history. These things that may seem small, add context to the apes’ struggle to survive.
I can talk about this movie all day, but to avoid spoiling any part of it i’ll just throw it to my…
This movie is special. From start to finish I was taken on a cinematic journey that had me completely in awe. Andy Serkis was able to bring to life Caesar again with another breathtaking performance. It cemented Caesar as one of the most compelling movie characters of all time. With a director like Matt Reeves at the helm who has such a grip on what makes these movies work, he was able to make sure that every emotional punch he threw landed with pinpoint accuracy.
War for the Planet of the Apes is without a doubt one of my favorites this year. While putting an emotional exclamation point on this trilogy, it also elevated the franchise to another level and put it among the very best cinema has to offer.
It’s also pretty cool to know that there are films to point people toward when they say that big blockbusters are nothing but dumb action movies. I wish more studios understood that you don’t need to sacrifice the quality of writing in your movie and appeal to the lowest common denominator. Being thematic and character driven shouldn’t be seen as a financial risk. Hopefully the amount of money made on the previous films along with what War makes, will spark some change in the way studios approach bigger movies.
War for the Planet of the Apes gets a 100/100 and is awarded the title of…