WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES Battles For Caesar’s Soul

Matt Reeves’ Terrific Trilogy Ender Hits Home Video

The REAL war… was for Caesar’s soul.

But in all seriousness this is indeed the central premise that writer/director Matt Reeves bases this final chapter of the Caesar trilogy on. And it’s a solid core for a film that rose quite significantly in my estimation upon a second viewing and home video exploration. [You can listen to my theatrical review of the film on Matthew Monagle’s After The Credits podcast].

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes was a film that knocked me out of my seat so hard I ended up placing it as my number one favorite film of 2014. I was just completely enraptured by the harsh and human story being told within the trappings of a studio blockbuster; the magic and spectacle being the digital creation of these amazing ape characters. When so much criticism is (rightly) heaped upon blockbuster excess along the lines of the Transformers or Pirates Of The Caribbean franchises, the Apes revival has been a herald of what big studio money can foster when it comes to spectacle with a soul. For all the advances in what is possible on screen and what bigger and bigger budgets will allow, it remains character work that truly captures our imaginations. Captain Jack Sparrow is the reason people were compelled by Pirates way back when… not grandiose special effects. And visual effects have created an environment where super heroes can be more fully realized… but it’s the beloved characters represented by respectful writers that make the Marvel films fly off the page. The same is true with the Apes franchise. 20th Century Fox bet it all on making a motion captured amalgamation of a digital creation based around Andy Serkis’ unparalleled performance. This series of films hangs entirely on the shoulders of a fully formed digital character. It’s a remarkable bet that ushered a beloved sci-fi series into a new era, and resulted in what is pound for pound perhaps the best modern trilogy since the Lord Of the Rings.

Where Dawn bowled me over, however, War threw me for a loop. Reeves and company kept surprising me with where this story was going. It was not a bad feeling, but a rather disorienting one. War kept going in directions I wouldn’t quite have taken it myself. And that’s totally okay. It just resulted in a struggle to place and rank the film in regards to its predecessor. And after a rewatch, as well as a full exploration of this home video release’s bonus features, I’m quite comfortable saying that while Dawn is by far my favorite entry of this trilogy, War is a remarkable film in its own right. Perhaps what came into clarity the most upon a revisit is just how tight and intentional Reeves and Matt Bomback’s script is. They took the time, they told the story entirely from the Apes’ point of view, and they dragged their main character through hell and back, in this case the hell of potentially losing the battle against a dark and vengeful heart.

In War, Woody Harrelson’s “Colonel” leads humanity’s final army in a last stand against a world being overtaken by intelligent apes. In an attack on the Apes’ wooded stronghold, some of Caesar’s own family are killed at the Colonel’s hand. Intimately tied to the events of Dawn, War finds Caesar careening towards a dark quest for vengeance against Man, or at least the man who killed his loved ones, all of which mirrors the path taken by Koba, the vengeful ape from Dawn which set much of that plot into motion. Again, the franchise doubles down on telling the entire story from the perspective of these fantastic apes. Dawn made its central conflict between two apes, and War bets it all on an internal conflict within Caesar himself. The humans are all secondary characters here, with Harrelson’s Colonel and child actor Amiah Miller’s mute human Nova being the only human roles that even approach “main character” status. Knowing the intentionality behind that story approach really belies a confidence in the writing that makes the final product highly respectable.

Also, the bonus features on this home video release make it explicit that Reeves and company are not, indeed, attempting to tell stories that will lead directly up to the beginning of the 1960s franchise. The Nova of War is not the Nova of 1968’s original Apes film, etc. Knowing this information definitively improves the viewing experience of War For The Planet Of The Apes. Reeves is able to nod to fans of the original series without shoehorning every last detail of his series into a perfect mold to lead up to the Charlton Heston classic. So while War is very definitively the conclusion of a trilogy, it by no means has to be the end of this modern series of Apes films. The series would almost have to delve into deeper tragedy as our apes, who are clearly this series’ protagonists and heroes, descend into a culture which enslaves and brutalizes the devolved humans among them. But that is for another review entirely.

War For The Planet Of The Apes wasn’t the story I would have told in order to conclude Caesar’s story. And that fact will probably always be a part of my experience of the film. But Reeves had a direction and a vision for this film which can’t be denied, and it works as a loving, tightly constructed narrative. I’ve neglected to note that the film remains a genuine blockbuster amidst all the potent character work and drama. It’s not quite the war us bloodthirsty viewers were anticipating, but the action set pieces remain big and beautiful. Throw in Michael Giacchino’s absolutely remarkable musical score, the jaw dropping visuals captured by Michael Seresin’s cinematography, and the career defining motion capture performance of Andy Serkis as Casesar (and really all the ape performances including Karin Konoval as the beating heart of this trilogy and Caesar’s great confidant Maurice), and you’ve got a film that is genuinely special and stands tall above the summer blockbuster fare it competed with at the box office.

The Package

It goes without saying that this film is a visual feast. The technical wizardry that makes these apes tangible, palpable animated characters that feel more human than previously considered possible is one thing. But the filmmaking craft on display is also thrilling to behold. Battle sequences in wooded, snowy, and watery terrain are executed brilliantly. Emotional sequences are filmed in such a way as to bring a tear to your eye. War For The Planet Of The Apes is just beautiful to look at, so the higher your definition capabilities, the better. I didn’t get a chance to view the 4K release… but you better believe I want to. That said, the Blu-ray lacked for nothing.

On top of the presentation, this disc is proper loaded with bonus content that, as mentioned in my review, distinctly supplements one’s enjoyment of the movie. Hearing Reeves and company illuminate their process from writing to filming to performance capture really highlight their own commitment to, and love for, this property. I caught things upon a second viewing (and after taking in the features) that heightened my appreciation of the movie and especially gave me a new appreciation for the tightness of the script. Fans of the new Apes series will want to own this fantastic trilogy on home video, and while the 4K trilogy is likely the optimal option, this disc is a pleasure.

Bonus Features

  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary From Matt Reeves
  • “Waging War For The Planet Of The Apes” — In-Depth Making Of Documentary
  • “All About Caesar”
  • “WETA: Pushing Boundaries”
  • “Music For Apes”
  • “Apes: The Meaning Of It All”
  • “The Apes Saga: An Homage”
  • Concept Art Gallery
  • Audio Commentary by Matt Reeves

And I’m Out.

War For The Planet Of The Apes hit 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on October 24th from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Further Reading:


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