Andy Serkis returns as Caesar, as the culmination of the previous two Planet of the Apes movies sees Caesar seeking refuge for his tribe while being hunted down by The Colonel, an extremist leader with his own anti-ape army. Can lighting strike twice for Dawn director Matt Reeves? Lee reviews.
The evolution of the rebooted Planet of the Apes films has been something of a marvel to the average cinephile; a grand, genre-hopping series that has tied science fiction to conventional father-son drama, political epic and, with War for the Planet of the Apes, smoothly culminated the previous blends into the classic Hollywood standards for Western and War movies (at least of the POW variety). It’s a modern trend of blockbuster revisionism, which of course is a neat way of including the addendum phrase ‘warts and all’.
A relatively simple story with a quiet flair for redemptive character arcs meets slow, purposeful cinematography – the kind that makes veterans of the art form swoon when they can see telegraphing of betrayal in a single character-juxtaposing shot. Plus plenty of what you should expect from a blockbuster of this scale, apes or no; good tension, memorable action, and sombre character relations in the spaces between. It’s a box-ticker, one that just happens to be steeped in old cinema history. Also with apes.
But with the standards comes the struggles of those standards. Those keeping track of the continuing Apes adventures will have seen much of this material before, and like any good third act, it’s firmly focused on the recourse of the second act. There’s payoff, sure, but much of the journey feels like a fallacy and there’s not much in the way of new moral ground being offered up here.
A middling third act that makes slavery into a single character arc is more boring than offense-worthy; some late-game science fiction feels mostly distracting at this point and robs us of some genuine conflict (as cathartic as it may appear in the moment), and some sloppy set-up/payoff does perhaps suggest there were too many balls the film was eager to juggle.
Still, it’s a satisfying conclusion overall (if it even really is a conclusion); one that cements the current trilogy as a silver standard in filmmaking ambition that, just to be clear, made three seriously watchable dramatic movies centred around the conflicts of talking apes. No small feat, to say the least.