"War has already begun," Caesar declares in the closing moments of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and he was right. What we may not have been prepared for, even though War For The Planet Of The Apes has its fair share of conflict, is that director Matt Reeves would be waging "gorilla" warfare on our emotions. So effective is War For The Planet Of The Apes in penetrating any humans empathy-proof vest, that you need to be prepared to experience any feeling to its fullest: Including desperation, fear and heart break. However, once you've swung through the running time, you'll come to realise that this is one of the most rewarding cinematic experiences to grace our screens.
One of the things that made Caesar so compelling was his mercy. Caeser's conflict with Koba hinged on the hate the latter couldn't quite relinquish. After an unforgiving attack on our family of apes, Caesar falls prey to his very own Ape-ocalypse Now. He leaves the tribe to track down and kill The Colonel; unable to shake his own heart of darkness. Which seems fitting as Harrelson plays a clearer and more sympathetic Colonel Kurtz. Along the way Planet of the Apes lifers, Rocket and Maurice, tag along and they even pick up some unexpected strays. Yet, it still remains Caesar's story. It could be a killer blow to your trilogy to blacken the soul of your protagonist and send him on a suicide run, but his recruits, new and old, help to keep him on the rails. Blissfully aware that he may be losing his "humanity", he's unable to unshackle himself completely, because his oldest allies won't allow it. Oddly, it's the exchanges with Harrelson's Colonel that truly offer a rumination on just how primal we could easily become.
Yet what really allows War For The Planet Of The Apes to stand upright and be more evolved than its summer counterparts is its commitment to subtlety. Even the 20th Century Fox fanfare gets a fitting, yet understated, tribal drum remix. The effects it has to rely so heavily upon steer away from jaw dropping to plunge us firmly into convincing reality. No matter how hard you try, you'll be hard pressed to find the blend where reality meets CG. Even when the elements beg for the damp fur or droplets to draw attention to themselves in a distracting forced simulation, instead is simply elegant effort.
Very few franchises have managed to pull off the hat trick as far as evolving and improving stories went. In recent years, Jason Bourne went from strength to strength, even if the last outing was more of a Bourne's Greatest Hits. Even The Godfather fell from the top of the classic tree and hit every branch on the way down. However, just like Bourne, the Planet of the Apes saga had a directorial change after the first outing, and while they wouldn't be the same without them, the later instalments reached deeper emotional depths under their new charges. Even when it's based on one of the most easily mocked sci-fi franchises and titles that are as awkward for cinema-going humans to say as their enhanced simian protagonists, somehow Matt Reeves manages to examine a lot more than simply War. The climax of Dawn offered the brutality and futility of war, so it'd be easy to simply extend the theme for 2hrs and 20 mins and give the blockbuster crowd all the gun-toting apes they can handle. Instead, our investment in the saga is rewarded with an effecting exploration of the human condition that we may not be prepared for - particularly when we may recognise it all too well.
5* - The Great Esc-Ape