The recent Planet of the Apes movies, much unlike their predecessors, have been far more than standard blockbuster fare. There was always something philosophical going on in the background, mostly in terms of relations on an individual and group level. It would bubble to the surface, but usually as a way to explain why the chances for peace between apes and humans were denied. Or in other words, there were cerebral reasons for setting off the fireworks.
This leads to War for the Planet of the Apes, which focuses on the tensions before the inevitable fight between apes and humans. After the events of Dawn, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is in a situation where he doesn’t want any more fighting. However, the conflicts begin anew with the arrival of a human militant group called the Alpha-Omega and lead by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The Colonel not only wants to restore human primacy (no pun intended) but also has recruited some ape dissenters that had issues with Caesar’s leadership. Plus, the apes have found some humans that have devolved, including a little girl named “Nova” (Amiah Miller). As the title indicates, the conflict will end in full-blown violence.
But then again, the violence is not meant to be the focus of the film. It is all about the character interactions as the tension slowly boils – or rather, is more akin to throwing a sparkler in a kiddie pool. Caesar is getting older and has a family to look after along with rules of all the other apes. As such, there is a major moment where a particular emotional loss causes him to lose his head a little. And as mentioned above, the ape collective is starting to not be a single cohesive unit. Not that it ever was perfect, as there are some flashbacks from Dawn that drive such a point home. Many people have said this before, but it is worth repeating: Andy Serkis is spectacular as Caesar, even in a sea of great performances. At the very least, he deserves a nomination at next year’s Oscars. Not that he’ll actually get it, but still.
The other amazing performance, in the Iago-from-Othello sort of way, is Woody Harrelson as the Colonel. On one hand, the average viewer can understand how the humans have been driven to the breaking point, in a superior version of The Walking Dead sort. On the other, many of his actions are inhumanly brutal, even under the thin veneer of “desperate times call for desperate measures.” It takes a special kind of acting to ensure the two conflicting mentalities work in sync, and Harrelson pulls it off. Of course, it is helped by a script that acknowledges how low he and the others have sunken.
If there are any downsides, it’s that the technical stuff and the music seem forgettable and perfunctory. But then again, who needs iconic music when you’ve got this?
What are you waiting for? Go out and see War for the Planet of the Apes!