In my Transformers review, I talked about action for the sake of action that leads to nothing coupled with hardly any stakes leading to one of the most boring and god-awful summer movies I have seen in my entire life. This one may have been made in the world of opposites. The final chapter of the rebooted “Apes” franchise is one of the summer’s best (and most thoughtful) blockbusters. If you ever need an example of why one kind of action film works and why one doesn’t just take a film like Transformers or The Mummy and watch this film right after and it will become plainly obvious where the real quality exists.
In the final chapter to the saga, war continues to brew between humans and apes at a dangerous level. After tragedy strikes Caesar (Andy Serkis), he heads out to find the person responsible along with a few fellow confidantes. He seeks out the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a man who has truly seen all the horrors of this war and kills at a moment’s notice without thinking twice. In looking for the Colonel, the apes soon make a horrifying discovery that the Colonel has some kind of holding facility and may have even bigger plans for the apes than they once believed. There is also a strange new phenomenon taking over that has rendered some people unable to talk for some reason.
It is very difficult to talk a whole lot about this movie without giving a few spoilers so I will say right now that if you have not seen the film, you may want to use caution as there may be some MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. That having been said, let’s dive in!
The first thing I want to mention about this movie is the tone, especially in comparison with the original Apes films. Obviously, technology could not allow for anything more than people in monkey costumes back when they first made these films but the movies also had a bit more of a goofy tone back then with a lot more levity than grounded filmmaking. However, with these new films and this one in particular, everything is handled with so much weight and gravitas. Despite the fact that we spend the majority of the film focusing on characters that are completely computer-generated (well, motion-capture but they are still not human), it never feels cheesy or fake in any way. The film grows a real attachment between the audience and these characters without resorting to a whole lot of “monkey business” either (sorry, I had to!). The film is not completely without humour and there are a few moments here and there that elicit laughs but that’s certainly not the focus of the movie and they are usually laid in as moments so that the audience may breathe for a moment after a breathtaking and/or intense sequence. Mark my words though: much of the film is quite grim and bleak at times.
The film really lays in some awesome themes as well so it’s not just a movie about apes fighting humans with cool special effects. Later in the film when we discover that the Colonel is imprisoning the apes and having them build him a wall to protect him from some external force, it really drives home some allusions to slavery especially with that of African-Americans or even the ways in which Chinese people were slaves when they built the railroad in America. Humans are not portrayed in a particularly positive manner in this movie and in fact, there is a great red herring at the beginning of the film in which you may think a character will be the focus of the movie but all is not as it seems. The allusions to slavery in the south is prevalent as well with the addition of “ape” characters that are helping the humans because they think they will benefit in the end. This was also explored in Django Unchained with Samuel L. Jackson playing a character similar to that.
As far as the acting goes, Andy Serkis knocks it out of the park again as the king of all things mo-cap. Serkis has the physicality and there is more weight to his performance as Caesar this time out as he has experienced a lot more loss and heartbreak. When he is conflicted in a key action scene late in the film, it is some of Serkis’ best work I’ve ever seen. Woody Harrelson is absolutely chilling as the Colonel and I believe what gives him even more of a scary edge is that he actually has a reason for being the way he is and despite him being a terrifying tyrant (and giving me serious vibes of Ralph Fiennes’ Nazi hitman character from Schindler’s List for some reason), there is a reason for every aspect of his personality. Steve Zahn joins the cast doing the voice and mo-cap for a new simian castmember and provides some moments of levity as “Bad Ape.”
On top of all the terrific acting, writing and directing this film looks like a million bucks too. Director Matt Reeves does great work here and much like he did with Dawn, all of the full-scale action scenes are on a whole other level. They may be some of the best battle scenes on film, in fact. While the movie starts out with a subdued action scene, it is only so the film can slowly build up the audience to the huge finale that never feels too long (cough, Michael Bay, cough) nor does it ever get confusing, nonsensical or repetitive. In short, there are stakes. Characters are fully capable of getting hurt and killed and it never feels like anyone is off-limits. The special effects themselves are a marvel to behold and combined with the beautiful quiet moments in the film, I just don’t know if this could’ve been any more well-rounded than it turned out.
This is an amazing film and one of the best endings to a wonderful trilogy I have ever seen. All of these films were tremendous and I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)