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War for the Planet of the Apes: A Great Franchise Comes to a Solid Conclusion

War for the Planet of the Apes: A Great Franchise Comes to a Solid Conclusion

In an age of cinematic universes, spin-offs, and reboots, one franchise has remained financially successful while also being somewhat underappreciated by the masses: the Planet of the Apes reimagining spearheaded by mo-cap king, Andy Serkis.

In its third (and, potentially, final) outing, this wonderful series comes to a satisfying conclusion. More importantly, it remains one of Hollywood’s darkest, most mature trilogies in recent memory, that’s driven by emotion and a director’s vision, not special effects or action figure sales (though, rest assured, the film is gorgeous).

War for the Planet of the Apes finds Caesar (Serkis) residing in a jungle fortress and attempting to lead his people apes while avoiding conflict with the humans. But, with a psychotic colonel (Woody Harrelson) staging attacks against the ape colony, Caesar is eventually forced to retaliate against his enemies and lead a small group of apes into war. Since the trailers have (wisely) left plot details out of the footage, it’d be best to go in as blind as possible, but rest assured the intelligently written storyline further establishes this unique universe and finds the main character wrestling moral quandaries in between exciting action scenes.

That being said, there are some pacing issues in the film, including a slow middle chapter and too long of a build-up before the final battle. And, the franchise’s biggest flaw remains intact: while Caesar is fully fleshed out, his ape allies and the human characters remain flat and one-note. It would have been nice to see the franchise try to fix these problems in their (alleged) final outing.

Once again, Apes proves to be a prime example of summertime spectacle. These special effects are truly some of the best Hollywood has to offer, with seamless motion capture creating apes that look, move, and emote realistically, which is both fun to look at and crucial to the film’s success. Without realistic effects, these apes – who make up almost ¾ of the film’s runtime and carry the story on their shoulders – would be difficult to relate to. But, in War, they help the emotional beats hit home.

And War is definitely emotional… and dark. This is much heavier than your average summer blockbuster, with shockingly disturbing sequences of characters being tortured, ape children being killed, and a suicide. But the effectiveness of these scenes is a testament to the effects’ quality. If these apes didn’t look realistic, then we wouldn’t care – in fact, these moments could have come off as cheesy or ridiculous.

Credit must also be given to the actors, however, as they are able to infuse personality into this top-notch CGI. Serkis remains an undisputed pioneer in the realm of motion capture, while Steve Zahn does strong work as a new addition to the ensemble of primates. And, while he may not be hidden behind motion capture, Woody Harrelson does some nice work as the film’s sadistic antagonist.

The 2017 Summer Movie Season will be a busy one: we’ve already had two well received comic book films that are dominating the box office, and a third is fast approaching. Two major animated film franchises are releasing new installments for kids, and adults even have some critically acclaimed offerings like Atomic Blonde and Baby Driver to chose from. Don’t let War for the Planet of the Apes sink through the cracks. It’s not perfect, but it remains ambitious and unique in an age where many films can feel indistinguishable.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor is the TV editor at The Pop Break, along with being one of the site's awards show experts. When he's not at the nearest movie theater, he can be found bingeing the latest Netflix series, listening to synth pop, or updating his Oscar predictions. A Rutgers grad, he also works in academic publishing. Follow him on Twitter @MattNotMatthew1.

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