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Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

The latest in the Planet of the Apes reboot series is the best yet

Dealing with the aftermath of the war against humans started 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes returns with Caesar (Andy Serkis) as the leader of the apes.  When Caesar’s camp is attacked, his family massacred, he sets off with a small band of apes to find the instigating Colonel (Woody Harrelson) for revenge.  Meanwhile, the Colonel captures and enslaves Caesar’s camp within his rogue army base.  Caesar and his companions must infiltrate, escape, and ultimately destroy the Colonel’s project.

Directed by Matt Reeves, who also helmed Dawn, War is a very adeptly made film.  Gorgeous scenery and exquisite framing feel greatly indebted to classic westerns such as Canyon Passage (Jacques Tourneur, 1946) and Wagon Master (John Ford, 1950); taking inspiration yet never feeling derivative, the drawing on classic film elevates War aesthetically, while bringing forth that which is key to its success as entertainment: its blending of genres.  Born of the sci-fi Apes series, War adds in elements of the western, as well as the prison break, and, as the title suggests, the war movie.  Despite its 2.5 hour run-time, it never feels dull, with a constant complex yet natural progression.  Evolving between genres while mixing them together, Reeves manages to create a film which is exciting, tense, and unique, with narrative diversity made smooth through tonal and visual unity.

At times it can feel that War takes itself a bit too seriously; however, this is, in the end, to its benefit.  Infusing the film with earnestness and sincerity, Reeves allows for great emotional depth.  Dramatic moments, whether tragic, joyous, or inspirational, are allowed to be expressed fully without irony.  And the emotions work: genuine happiness, sadness, love, and fear are felt with the characters. 

War does attempt to make topical political commentary, which is relatively shallow.  While the broader concepts of identity, conflict, and community are strong, references to the Trump administration are conspicuously flat.  But within a film that otherwise reaches near perfection formally, generically, narratively, and emotionally, it hardly matters.  Drawing on older genres and styles while always creating something new, and with an explosive emotional core to carry its story, War is a true masterpiece.

Chelsea Phillips-Carr

Chelsea Phillips-Carr is a freelance writer from Toronto. She has an MA in cinema studies.