For all intents and purposes, the reboot of the Planet of the Apes series should not have worked. The original Ape movies from the 60’s and 70’s are cheesy and campy, but are still beloved to this day. Starting the series over from scratch was always going to be a risk, a fact that Tim Burton discovered when he released his ill-conceived (and honestly, terrible) remake in the early 2000’s. The movie was such a disaster that it seemed a forgone conclusion that the final nail was officially in the coffin and the franchise was dead. Ten years later, it came as a bit of a surprise when it was announced that a prequel/reboot was on the way, and that it took place in the present day.
This new movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, defied all expectations and became a massive hit. It was considered one of the best movies of the year, so word of mouth quickly spread. The follow up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, was even better and made even more money. Now the third movie in the trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes, is out and not only is it easily the best in the series, it may very well be one of the better films to release this summer.
One of the biggest reasons that these modern Ape movies have worked so well is because of Caesar, the simian at the center of the trilogy. Andy Serkis is hands down the best motion capture actor working today, and he has turned Caesar into one of modern cinema’s greatest characters. The fact that this character is done entirely via GCI is actually incredible. Even though Caesar is technically not real, he may be one of the most fully formed characters of the century so far. Serkis gives him so much emotion and heart that some people may find it hard to believe that this creature doesn’t actually exist. They honestly should create a new award category for motion capture actors (or just give Serkis a special award).
A couple of new additions to the franchise are also highlights. The first is Bad Ape, a chimp who was once in a zoo, and has also gained the ability to speak. Steve Zahn, who does the voice and motion capture for the role, provides the comic relief that is otherwise lacking. Should the franchise continue past this film, I hope he is a key player. The other new addition, which is a definite call back to the original film, is the mute human child Nova – a young, mute human girl who travels with the apes. Amiah Miller does an amazing job in the role, and that is without uttering a single word. Once again, I would love to see what happens with her if the series continues.
Of course, as with the previous two entries in the series, the weakest part of the film is the actual humans (aside from Nova). In the prior two movies, the humans weren’t necessarily “bad”, they were just unsure how to deal with apes becoming the dominant species, and that led to man vs. ape conflicts. This time out, the humans aren’t just bad, they’re mustache-twirling villains. Woody Harrelson, who is usually a highly capable actor, hams it up here as the leader of a group of soldiers hell bent on wiping the apes from existence. Every single adult person in the movie is without a single redeeming quality. It’s obvious that we are supposed to side with the monkeys, but they’re really hitting us over the head with it this time.
Many movie trilogies tend to start lagging by the third chapter, but the new Planet of the Apes franchise is most definitely bucking the trend. Each movie has gotten progressively better as the series continued. While War for the Planet of the Apes definitely feels like the end of the series, I wouldn’t be surprised if it continued past this point. As long as the apes act as they do now, and don’t suddenly turn into war hungry creatures, I will gladly keep watching. If you have yet to see any of these movies, I highly recommend binging all three films once they’re available outside of theaters.