These are words that come to mind as I recall my viewing experience of War for the Planet of the Apes, the final installment of the excellent Apes trilogy. These are words that rarely come up when discussing a $150 million dollar studio product. Yet in the hands of director Matt Reeves and his team, War flourishes and embodies what a blockbuster film is supposed to. And then some.
War features an Oscar-worthy performance from Andy Serkis as Caesar. Yes, I am not joking — it is about time that a motion-capture performance gets some recognition from awards shows. A CGI gloss does not discount the immense amount of talent that goes into giving a mo-cap performance. Parts of this film play like a character study; as audience members, we follow Caesar’s physical and emotional journey. And what a journey it is. The supporting characters are also amazing– each having a unique character arc. The antagonist played by Woody Harrelson is surprisingly humanized, and his fate at the end of the film hits with emotional impact.
Matt Reeves and his co-writer Mark Bomback (A Wesleyan alum) craft a truly visual story. There are no long scenes dedicated to exposition nor any unnecessarily “crowd-pleasing” action scenes. Every single scene in the 2 hour and 15 minute runtime adds to the narrative in a nuanced and meaningful way. I applaud the daring of the screenwriters to address such themes as slavery, genocide, and family. War is fundamentally steeped in darkness, proving that its PG-13 rating does not restrict how “gritty” a film can be. The visual style of the film keeps one on edge with its use of low-key lighting and eerie imagery. Also noteworthy is Michael Giacchino’s score — something totally unique that subverts the conventions associated with blockbuster movie scores.
Emotions run at the core of War. They are woven meticulously into the narrative tapestry of this film, reaching a poignant and fulfilling crescendo at the end of the film. At a time when nay-sayers try to trace the critical failure of blockbusters (DC movies particularly) to their darkness, War for the Planet of the Apes cuts through the mold, proving that dark themes have no bearing on the quality of a film. Also, I know that War will be criminally under-seen (as it is not the next big superhero circle-jerk). So, I implore you, go and see what is one of the best films of the year.
5 rag dolls out of 5