Thursday, 13 July 2017

War For The Planet of the Apes (3D) (2017) (Review)


War For The Planet of the Apes supposedly concludes a trilogy that has continually demonstrated to Hollywood how to reboot a property correctly and effectively. The cinematic franchise has earned critical acclaim every step of the way and this, proceeding Rise and Dawn, appears to be a culmination of 20th Century Fox's efforts. Even as rumours of a fourth instalment of the reboot series circulate, many will still see this as the closing film of a trilogy as smart as it was emotional. The War is here - and be warned, it is an emotional, stirring experience.

The events of Dawn have left the humans and apes in a more bitter and hostile place than ever before and, despite Caesar's best attempts at a ceasefire and numerous offerings of peace, the war rages on. After soldiers attack the Ape's home and leave many of them dead, Caesar decides once and for all to end the war and take action against the man who brought them such pain - a mysterious Colonel  (Woody Harrelson) raising an army to finally destroy the Apes. With the escalation of threat and bloodshed, the war comes to a head with casualties on each side. 

War For The Planet of the Apes is quite literally the anti-summer blockbuster: it is bleak, heavy and very dark, standing out against the lighter, frothy summer entertainment we otherwise contend with. With as much brain as it has heart, it is a searingly smart, trenchant piece of cinema with a plethora of themes and parallels that are seamlessly infused into the writing. Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves' screenplay once again considers and develops the prominent themes of the series, including an examination of humanity (or a lack of it) and society, hierarchy and ranking, alongside a biting commentary about the crosshairs and politics of war.

This Matt Reeves-directed piece in particular draws some notable parallels to concentration camps and slavery and is all the more pensive because of it, grounding the series in a pragmatic way that ensures it is stark, emotive and sincere in its action and execution. While these themes are not always handled in the most subtle manner, it enhances the picture in a profound and touching way. Reeves further capitalises on the uncomfortable atmosphere with some smart camera work: in the first half in particular, a masterclass in tension, items are off-centre in the frame, creating a darting movement with the audiences eyes to really emphasis that uncomfortable nature of war. It's really terrific stuff. In fact, the entire first act is top-class film-making of the highest pedigree, laying the foundations for an incredibly taut and tense 140 minute film - all topped off stunningly with a breathless finale as powerful as it is meaningful. Honestly, the opening and closing stretches of this film are near faultless.

It is impossible to discuss a Planet of the Apes film without noting the sheer groundbreaking achievement and technical wizardry that brings this world to our screens. The magnum opus of special effects, the detail and flourishes utilises to bring the Apes to life is astounding and awe-inspiring, with each tear drop and hair expertly renders. It is impossible to discuss the film without gushing about the technical accomplishments of this film (and indeed the Apes series), matching the impressiveness and splendour of 2017's Best Special Effect Oscar winner, The Jungle Book. Reeves helms the picture skilfully and proficiently,  balancing the real and the digitally-created with a deftness. I would be shocked to see this left out of the Academy Awards race early next year. Another award-season worthy element of the picture is Michael Giacchino's emotionally intense soundtrack that excellently scores the major scenes of the film, and emphasises the power in the smaller moments (for example, the stunning moment Luca places a flower in Nova's hair).

While the human actors are impressive (Woody Harrelson, one of the most consistent performers of our time, is towering as the enigmatic Colonel, while Amiah Miller delivers a beautiful nuanced and heartfelt performance absent of words as Nova), the true marvel of the picture rests with the actors characterising the Apes - no one more so than Andy Serkis. Serkis' range of emotion shines here, made possible through stop motion technology, and he is simply phenomenal: the compassion in his voice, the kindness and drive in his eyes and determination in his stance marry together to provide his most talented performance to date, not only of the franchise, but of his career to date. It is simply jaw-dropping. The emotion is palpable every step of the way, anchored predominantly by Serkis. Of course, a number of other performances impress throughout, with Steve Zahn's scene-stealing performance as Bad Ape is most likely to be a talking point, alongside the warming and impassioned performance of Karis Konoval as Maurice, a personal favourite of mine. In all honesty, everybody impresses in this piece, with the casting team deserving a pat on the back for perfecting the ensemble carrying the weight of the film.

What disappoints most with War For The Planet of the Apes is how much it drops the ball with its middle act. After an astounding opening third, the second act resorts to lazy script writing and developments that interrupt the momentum and flow: one plot advancement is so frustrating that you cannot help but shout furiously at the screen, angry that the writers decided to proceed with such a simple and convenient decision that threatens to undermine an otherwise intelligent and sharp film. Ultimately, that middle patch is lazy - a word that should never be associated with this franchise - but thankfully, you can just about let it slide and the film collects itself in time for the solid climax. It is disappointing that it slacks in middle narratively, but it remains potent thematically and atmospheric enough tonally to power the film through to its extraordinary, almost cathartic finale.

War's 3D conversion may not be completely necessary but it is well-rendered and one of the better examples of 2017. While convinced it will remain as engaging and visually impressive in standard format, the 3D works in emphasising the visuals and attention to detail, which is never a bad thing.

War For The Planet of the Apes is a tremendously powerful, bleak but beautiful blockbuster providing a suitable break from the lighter, fluffier entertainment of the cinematic season. In my eyes, it surpasses the solid 'Rise' and impressive 'Dawn', rounding out the trilogy on top form. This entry has solidified the Planet of the Apes series as one of the shining examples of rebooting done correctly, crafting a genuinely thoughtful and formidable collection of films that will be reflected on in years to come with fondness, acknowledging its power in the marketplace and ability to bring both brains, brawn and heart to the table.

(8/10)

Summary: War For The Planet of the Apes is the perfect summer anti-dote: as bleak and dark as it is smart and stirring, the final instalment in the successful reboot trilogy is a franchise high-point, crafting an emotional, powerful and cathartic blockbuster experience.

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