War for the Planet of the Apes is Grade-A blockbuster filmmaking. I will forever judge and compare the CGI in every movie that I see moving forward against the FLAWLESS work done in this film. Seriously. What the hell? I couldn’t believe what I was watching. Everything about this movie works like gangbusters, from the intelligent screenplay to the emotionally engaging performances to the logical plotting to the kick-ass action sequences – this is how you do it when it comes to spending what looks like a billion dollars to make a movie. I’m not kidding. This movie had to have cost a mint. When you get that quality of images, it can’t be cheap, and you know people were seriously invested in their work.
There isn’t ONE SINGLE TIME where you look at one of the apes during the course of the film and think that they don’t look real and tangible and legitimate. It’s stunning. It’s landmark work when it comes to this sort of technological achievements. The incredible Andy Serkis made me cry like a baby – repeatedly – during this film. His motion capture performance as Caesar is all-time level stuff, expanding upon his two previous performances, and I have to be honest, I wouldn’t be shocked if his work in War for the Planet of the Apes feels more resonant than most others by the end of the year.
Co-writer and director Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Let Me In, Cloverfield), who worked with scenarist Mark Bomback (Unstoppable, Live Free or Die Hard) has now joined the absolute upper-echelon of large-scale popcorn filmmakers, tipping his hat to Nolan (in tone) and Spielberg (in intent), proving that he cares about his story, characters, and dialogue just as much as he does to the photo-real visual effects and the gorgeously composed photography that he crafted in tandem with the great cinematographer Michael Seresin (Midnight Express, Shoot the Moon, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). The fantastic musical score by Michael Giacchino heightens nearly every scene yet never overpowers, with a late in the game musical cue that sets the stage for the unrelenting final act.
The swift editing by William Hoy and Stan Salfas moves this epic picture along at a fast pace despite a two hour and twenty minute running time, with everything clicking into high-gear thanks to the superb production design by James Chinlund, who clearly had a ball with the various sets and locations. Also, there’s snow in this film. I love “snow movies.” Woody Harrelson is one of my favorite actors, so it was delightful seeing him play the chief villain. I’m consistently blown away by his ability to portray lovable protagonists and evil antagonists, switching it up with total ease and confidence. He’s terrific here, getting the chance to tackle a multi-dimensional baddie who goes head to head with Caesar for much of the film.
I’ll spoil none of the robust story or the poignant finale, but I will comment that War for the Planet of the Apes is very violent, rather dark, and appreciably grim, as it should be. But it’s going to be the lingering close-ups that I’ll remember the most about this artful, expressive, and thoroughly absorbing film, as I just couldn’t get over the level of believable artistry that was brought to the table to bring these digital apes to life. There are zero excuses any more as far as I’m concerned in terms of other films and filmmakers. If this sort of work was possible on this film, than it should be standard operating procedure for any movie involving copious CGI work in the future. Get it right, or don’t do it at all. No more half-assing it.
When a film like War for the Planet of the Apes comes along, I can’t help but feel that the only people who will have something negative to say will be people who went into their screening looking to hate on it. Sort of like with Baby Driver. The “too cool for school” police seem to be out and that’s a shame, as this is grand cinematic escapism done on a massive yet intimate scale. And as much as I don’t care about seeing anymore comic book/superhero movies, the fact that Reeves wants to make a noir/detective Batman film, well, I’m curious about that. But for now, he should feel extremely proud, because this has been the most unexpectedly moving and exciting trilogy of summer movies in decades.
Review by Nick Clement