When I think of perfect trilogies, a few franchises jump into my head immediately. The original Star Wars movies, Evil Dead and Indiana Jones are the first to come to mind. When I walked into the movie theater to watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes six years ago, Hell, even when I walked in to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes three years ago, I had no idea what sort of legacy this prequel trilogy would leave. As the introduction of War for the Planet of the Apes concluded, I knew right then and there that this series will go down in film history as one of the greats, and I know I’ll remember it for years to come.
It picks up after the shaky realization at the end of Dawn that after Koba attacked the humans, they will never let the apes live in peace. The apes, still lead by Andy Serkis’ Caesar are looking for a place to migrate to far away from the humans who are constantly pounding at their gates. After an attack from the film’s antagonist, The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), Caesar refuses to run any longer and the war officially begins.
I think the biggest reason that War takes the throne as the best of the three films is thanks to the fact that the vast majority of its screen time belongs to Caesar and the apes. In the first two films, it was the constant exposition dumps from human characters that caused them to drag, but in War, The Colonel’s motivations are reserved to a single scene, and Harrelson carries it confidently and frighteningly. In fact, setting aside one five second scene of glaring and unnecessary product placement, there isn’t a single one that feels off or doesn’t work – thanks in no small measure to the near-perfect motion capture at play in War.
I’ve always thought the apes in these films looked great, even if little Caesar in Rise is starting to show his age, but the work that the animators have done in War rivals, and at many points surpasses the likes of last year’s live action remake of The Jungle Book. Beyond the lifelike visuals of the apes, the environmental shots aren’t too shabby to look at either. The plot almost mirrors the video game The Last of Us, taking the audience through lush west coast forests and snowy mountain lodges, and each new location is prettier to look at than the last. Watching our civilized world peel away around military strongholds and giant dams have been a visual treat, but in War the earth that we know is all but gone.
If I was held at gunpoint and forced to pick one aspect of War that stood out the most to me, it would be Michael Giacchino’s score. Even though some of the film’s best moments don’t feature any music at all, when the soundtrack kicks in, it’s impossible not to feel exactly what the characters on screen are feeling. It calls back to the films that came before this franchise almost flawlessly all while feeling fresh and new with its string-heavy beats. Much like I did after seeing Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I’ll be listening to War’s score on the way to work for weeks or even months to come.
I will admit that when Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape made his debut, I sucked in a sharp breath of air and held it all through his first scene. It’s a gritty war film after all, and comedic relief in such a bleak and admittedly dark story can go wrong so easily. Fortunately, Zahn was more than up to the task, and his character effortlessly nestled his way into my favorites club right alongside Caesar, Rocket and the compassionate Orangutan, Maurice. Finally, even the human child character played by Amiah Miller tugged at my heart strings after she joins Caesar and his crew.
I thought 2017 peaked with Logan, the last film I gave a perfect review on Bloody Disgusting. I’m both surprised and happy that I was proven wrong only three months later. War for the Planet of the Apes is not only the best film in the prequel trilogy that debuted the better half of a decade ago, it’s a masterpiece and one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Do yourself a favor and check it out as soon as possible.