What a time to be alive. We now live in an era where a trilogy starring a man dressed in a grey man-cancelling suit with dots on his face in order to portray a talking ape is one of the most emotionally hard hitting and brilliant blockbuster trilogies of our time.
Chris Nolan might have something to say about this of course and while I enjoy ‘Rises’, he certainly finished the trilogy with the weakest instalment. Matt Reeves however finishes the trilogy he inherited after the first film with possibly the strongest. In fact, these films are so good, I don’t even care about how terrible their titles are. Rise before Dawn? Get a grip.
‘War’, as I’ll refer to it from herein, takes place 15 years after the end of ‘Rise’, the first instalment which saw an Alzheimer’s drug (the ALZ-113 virus) go wrong and turn apes into intelligent beings while also somehow wipe out most of the human population. How? Science, that’s how.
War picks up with the humans, lead by Woody Harrelson’s Colonel, afraid and determined to wipe out the Apes, lead by Andy Serkis’ Caesar. Reeves’ film can be boiled down to these two characters and their desperation to save their respective species. It’s such a focused film, there’s not much in the way of sub-plots and because of this, the film is always moving forward and it allows the filmmaker to focus almost entirely on these two characters.
We’ve now seen Andy Serkis in three of these films as Caesar and each time he’s been quite simply incredible. Along with some excellent writing and direction, Serkis has brought such an iconic and heroic and yet flawed character to life via the medium of motion-capture. What’s more amazing is that you can see Serkis in Caesar’s eyes. You can see every micro-expression. His ability to get every emotion through the fairly drastic post-production process of being transformed into an ape is nothing short of brilliant. It’s about time Serkis got some recognition for this.
It almost goes without saying, although it shouldn’t, but Serkis’ performance would have been impossible without the incredible work of the guys at Weta. The special effects are breathtaking. At no point in the film do you think that you aren’t emotionally connecting to a real-life, walking, talking, intelligent ape. At no point do you think that Caesar isn’t real. In fact, you almost forget the effects are even there, which is a huge compliment. It just feels real which is, when you think about it, simply incredible.
War does a fantastic job of raising the stakes from Dawn. The war between the humans and the apes has reached critical point as it becomes clear they aren’t going to co-exist. Their one chance for peace was Caesar but he’s so consumed by revenge and anger that a truce between the two species has become impossible. But while this war is raging, it is Caesar’s personal conflict with the Colonel and his own battle with his emotions and his regrets and fears that take centre stage. Often these personal battles are lost in big budget, spectacle-heavy summer blockbusters but it’s the element that makes the great ones great and it’s what makes this trilogy special.
The film is so much more emotionally engaging than it has any right to be. Reeves doesn’t shy away from putting our hero through the ringer or punishing him for his selfish actions. Caesar is an emotional character and it’s perhaps his human qualities that are his greatest weakness. War manages to address these issues of humanity and right and wrong through Caesar’s eyes so effectively and the result is a really hard-hitting and powerful film.
Matt Reeves has finished off this blockbuster trilogy with probably it’s best instalment, it’s visually stunning and accompanied by a beautiful score from Michael Giacchino but it’s real strength is in it’s focused narrative and a fantastic performance by Andy Serkis.
War is a fantastic ending to one of the most under appreciated franchises of our time.