It’s disturbing how well CGI replaces humans in war

It’s a testament to how terrific storytelling can be when a movie set around the war between the survivors of a worldwide plague and a race of super intelligent apes for control of the post apocalyptic planet earth feels a closer today than another world. It’s these themes of racism and identity that Rupert Wyatt, director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes created in the first of this new trilogy that Matt Reeves, director of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes concluded in the final film, War for the Planet of the Apes.

War for the Planet of the Apes never once feels like a summer movie because of Matt Reeves incredibly understated storytelling. And yes, I said understated knowing that Matt Reeves first film was Cloverfield. He substitutes the massive set pieces, superheroes, and CGI battles that we normally find in the theatres this time of year for quiet visuals that resonate with the power of an embedded war photographer. And it’s because of those visuals that what’s essentially the climax to Caesar the ape’s personal story across this trilogy is so far more engaging than everything currently in the summer box office. Matt Reeves only uses his imagery as a way for you to engage with these characters and it never once feels like he’s throwing this imagery in your face.

Again building on what Rise of the Planet of the Apes start, Reeves continues pulling the colours out of his film. Using them much like he does his imagery to help us engage with these apes. And despite the great storytelling from Mat Reeves, the photorealistic advances in CGI, what makes it so easy to connect with Caesar the ape is through the actor playing him, Andy Serkis. As Caesar has evolved many so has the technology that creates him so much so that you can see Serkis in that face. And what you walk away from that performance with, aside from a profound anger that he hasn’t been nominated by the academy for any one of these performances, is those eyes.

Serkis has no formal training as an actor. Choosing to join playhouses throughout England instead of acting school. It’s a CV that’s given him a grasp of character that certain higher paid actors today don’t have. And it comes out through his eyes. As Matt Reeves gives us the time to watch Caesar’s eyes quietly observe his apes debating their future, you get the weight on Caesar’s shoulders in that stare. And when it comes to the climax that started in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you get him. Easy to do with Matt Reeves’s outstanding grasp of character and tempo. Perhaps it’s from Matt Reeves coming back from the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but these side characters to Caesar’s story, Karin Konoval as the orangutan, Maurice, and legendary motion capture actor and coach, Terry Notary, as Rocket truly come into their own with this movie. And their roles not only make sense to their characters, you get why they’re with Caesar. Reeves and writer, Mark Bomback, wisely craft a story that is so well balanced for character that you never once feel like any of the characters in this movie are there for the hell of it – I’m looking at you 90% of the Pirates of the Caribbean cast.

Along with the themes of identity, racism, and socialism comes Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape. Bad Ape learned to talk by listening the the humans in the zoo he once lived in but after his example soon found himself on his own. Zahn, known far more for his comedy brings such an engaging realism to Bad Ape in a role that could easily have been a throw away token comedy role. I get his struggle as he tries to socialize with Caesar and his apes steaming from own poor social skills. I not only have to give credit to Zahn, but the filmmakers as well, for Bad Ape. I was never expecting to be with Bad Ape as much as I was.

But, with any story, your hero is only as good as the villain and Woody Harrelson is more than capable of walking right up to that intense glare of Serkis and give it right back. Harrelson plays  The Colonel. And what makes the Colonel truly frightening as a character and villain for the apes is that he’s a true believer in what drives him. And when you look in Harrelson’s eyes, you get that this is a guy who wont let anything get in his way. If I had anything to say about this film negatively it’s that Harrelson was constantly wearing sunglasses. Despite my pet peeve about wearing sunglasses at night what bothers me about this is that those glasses blocked the fact that Harrelson has so much expression coming out of his eyes.

Reeves smartly weaves the Colonel and Caesar’s stories together in ways that feels natural and unexpected at times and pays off in something you don’t see a lot in a prequel series. This new trilogy of Planet of the Apes films ties in to the original films so well that when the war is over you’ll catch yourself smiling like I did. This also goes for relative newcomer Amiah Miller. For someone so young to create such an engaging character that doesn’t talk in Nova. Yes THAT Nova from the original 1968 Planet of the Apes. It’s through young Nova that Reeves actually answers a lot of the question the original film never answered and builds her character and her understanding of the apes.

The action in this film was unexpected because this isn’t the hardcore action the trailers make it to be. Yes, this is war. But Matt Reeves shows us the other side of war, the aftermath. Reeves uses the action as a pay off. It’s a smart way to tell the story because when the action hits, as oppose to the war imagery Reeves gives us, you don’t get tired of it. The action is used just enough to keep the story moving. And it is honestly a truly moving story that you will find in War for the Planet of the Apes. This is a film well worth 5 out of 5 stars and is a story very much for the times that you will keep talking about long after you’ve left the theatre.