★★★★ – “An engrossing conclusion to the trilogy.”

War for the Planet of the Apes is directed by Matt Reeves and stars Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Karin Konoval, Steve Zahn, Terry Notary, Ty Olson, Toby Kebbell and introducing Amiah Miller.

After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. (12A cert; 140 mins)

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There was a Rise, there was a Dawn, now there’s a War. Through each instalment of this rebooted franchise we have seen the mastery of visual effects taken to new heights. ‘Rise’ began the story of Caesar (Andy Serkis) with an incredible response. ‘Dawn’ took everything that was great and expanded upon it, both in story and in visuals. ‘War’ continues that leap in modern filmmaking – with Matt Reeves returning to direct – and doesn’t lose what made the previous films so remarkable; the characters.

What makes War for the Planet of the Apes so special, along with its predecessor, is how Reeves shows us two sides to the story. Sure, we root for the apes, but in this film we feel a sense of guilt and sadness for the humans (sometimes). The battle isn’t just depicted in the film, it’s in your mind. As I watch, I’m conflicted. I find myself wanting someone to call surrender, but of course this won’t happen. There will be chaos. There will be death. ’War’ shows it all; the riveting opening sequence prepares you for what’s to come, and does so stunningly.

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Andy Serkis has made quite a name for himself in recent years. His role as Gollum in LOTR was of course a staple in his career, but I truly believe this franchise put him in the spotlight for many. There’s no doubt he’s a talented actor. He brings all the intricacies of feelings and emotion into his performance, with motion capture providing a phenomenal effect. His eyes show heartbreak, rage, love. He connects to the viewer, just as the viewer connects to him. ‘War’ continues his winning streak, he’s truly wonderful in this film.

Woody Harrelson plays the leader of the human army. He’s evil, but as the film explores his reasoning, we become sympathetic. This is the stem of those conflicting thoughts, and something I love about Reeves’ writing. Harrelson performs alongside Serkis very well, every scene is filled with tension, their rivalry is enthralling to watch. There’s been a lot of great talent chosen for this franchise, and Harrelson is definitely one of the strongest.

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Surrounding the two relatable leads are a cast of superb characters, ranging from Rocket (Terry Notary), to the sweet Maurice (Karin Konoval) and the kooky but fun Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). The film also introduces Nova (Amiah Miller), a young girl saved and protected by the apes. Miller is a surprising addition to the cast and turns in a delightful performance.

As I mentioned, this film is visually stunning. Michael Seresin returns as cinematographer, shooting on 65mm film, capturing every scene with impeccable skill. Each shot is carefully constructed, and the sets look beautiful. The motion capture is groundbreaking, the performances are expertly implemented into the apes and the result is seamless. The same applies to the visual and special effects; which have both developed significantly since the last instalment. A large amount of the environment is created with CGI, but it’s well established and fabricated enough to be wholly convincing. The sound design also has a hand in how realistic the world is, and it’s outstanding.

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Michael Giacchino returns to the Apes franchise with a score that evolves from his previous material, amplifying his use of percussion and woodwinds, embellishing his unique style. The opening cue is a suspenseful rise of apprehension and the reoccurring motifs perform well aside the visuals throughout. It’s a terrifying, huge and atmospherical score, but there are moments of true beauty as well.

‘War’ is an impressive film and highly entertaining. But in retrospect, I still find ‘Dawn’ to be the superior picture. People will expect a different kind of war, admittedly I did too, however that’s not necessarily the reason I felt underwhelmed. ‘War’ needed some trimming; it’s not butt-achingly long, but there were moments where the pacing felt a little monotonous. ‘Dawn’ had an equal share of action and storytelling, which made the picture a lot tighter as a whole. But ‘War’ is still a ride of emotions. Andy Serkis is the highlight amongst many highlights.

Verdict; War for the Planet of the Apes is an engrossing, visually impressive picture and a fitting end to the Apes trilogy.

War for the Planet of the Apes★★★★ (8/10)

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