REVIEW: Sophisticated blockbuster action in latest Apes escapade

Andy Serkis as Caesar
Andy Serkis as Caesar

Tom Wade reviews War for the Planet of the Apes (12A), starring Andy Serkis

It’s been about 20 years since the fall of human civilisation. Caesar leads his fellow intelligent apes in a life that craves peace and healing after his previous conflict with human survivors was prompted by an ape traitor named Koba. Humans, it seems, won’t allow this to happen, and when Caesar comes into contact with the remains of the US military, tragedy visits his family. These events send Caesar down a path of personal vengeance and hatred, one that will have ramifications for the future of humans and apes alike.

Completing the trilogy of the Planet of the Apes reboot, War continues the pleasing trend of being perhaps the most soul-crushingly bleak franchise in the history of Hollywood. Directed and co-written by the talented Matt Reeves (who is off to direct the new Batman film next), War is a superb summer blockbuster that manages to combine emotion, action, sophistication and raw intensity to great effect.

Headlining it all is Andy Serkis who is unsurprisingly amazing in his role of Caesar. Performance capture has come a long way since Serkis was starring as Gollum, and his Caesar is totally believable. Having recently re-watched War’s predecessor Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the leap forward in a short time in realism in Caesar and his fellow apes has grown so sophisticated that it's sometimes hard to believe they aren't real. Reeves has taken the decision to film his characters in long, lingering close-ups, revealing their sad, soulful eyes, and not once did I find myself remembering that I was watching a collection of CGI characters. With every release of an Apes film there is clamour for Serkis to be rewarded with Oscars and this is further proof that performance capture should be recognised.

It’s not just Serkis however - the humans are just as interesting. Woody Harrelson is superb channelling Brando in Apocalypse Now as the ruthless, ape-hating Colonel. Although the rest of his army are given little screen time to develop, his presence is magnetic enough to command the screen whenever he is around.

Another highlight has to be the musical score. Composed by Michael Giacchino, it is quite magnificent, at times sounding like a biblical epic before changing effortlessly during one tense standoff to evoke classic western and Samurai styles. Similarly, the cinematography is breathtaking at times, creating horrifying vistas of captivity against the backdrop of mountains and natural beauty.

War is a sophisticated blockbuster that completes one of the best trilogies that Hollywood has presented for years.