Prequels are generally not that great, but reboot prequels often fare better. For example, the ‘Star Wars‘ prequels are rubbish, but ‘Casino Royale‘ works really well. In this case, this ‘Planet of the Apes‘ prequel-reboot trilogy works really really well. All three are equally fantastic!
Set a couple of years after ‘Dawn‘, Caesar and his apes have been fighting off the attacking human armies who have arrived to kill them. Led by the Colonel, these humans are hoping to exterminate the apes and reclaim their world. Caesar only wants peace, but soon sees one too many casualties and begins a journey to bring an end to the war. It’s another completely logical step in terms of story for this franchise. Each movie seems to play into the next perfectly, despite time jumps. Of course the humans would come to kill the apes after Koba started the war in the last film. And of course Caesar would eventually be forced to fight back, despite not wanting to.
But the story isn’t all action, and instead focuses on the characters, in particular the personal journey of Caesar himself. Without getting into spoilers, Caesar goes through a lot in this movie and seeing him react and his internal struggle with his emotions is both fascinating and heartbreaking. He is still haunted by his murder of Koba, the ape who crossed him to start the war, and struggles with not becoming the same type of revenge-filled killer. This is his journey, his movie. He wants only to protect his apes but struggles with what to sacrifice within himself to accomplish that. Playing as a perfect counterpart to that is the Colonel. He’s full on crazy and has taken his role in this war to another level. He is what Caesar is trying not to become: a ruthless dictator who has gone mad with rage. Seeing the two interact and understand how the other works is really great and just goes to highlight the consequences of this war.
The acting all round is fantastic. Andy Serkis as Caesar is incredible. Motion capture aside, his performance is at times so subtle in the way his face moves and the look in his eyes that you really get a sense of what is going on inside his head. It’s another fantastic performance and Serkis is a real star. Woody Harrelson as the Colonel is similarly really good. He’s mad but not in an extremely over the top way. You can see it in his eyes, but he never freaks out. He’s calmly mental and that in some ways is even scarier. Amiah Miller plays a young girl who is adopted by Caesar and his band of apes on their journey and she does a great job for someone so young who is acting opposite a group of blokes in light bulb covered spandex. For someone who doesn’t speak all that much she does a great job of acting through her face. There’s not really many other notable humans in this film though, it’s all apes.
Steve Zahn plays Bad Ape, an ape who escaped from a zoo and provides most, if not all, of the comedic moments in the film. This is a very dark film, but he gets a few laughs here and there which really serve to brighten the film slightly. Perhaps my favourite character, Maurice, returns here, played by Karin Konoval. The big orangutan serves as the moral compass of the film, providing advice and wisdom to CAesar. It is he who adopts the young girl and looks after her and it is him who gets a lot of the ‘aww’ moments in the film. He’s really really great and just seeing his big old face look up with those eyes is amazing. Terry Notray plays Rocket, another of Caesar’s best buds who really comes into his own in this film and has some great moments himself. Michael Adamthwaite rounds out Caesar’s team as gorilla Luca, who also gets some really good stuff to do and seeing a massive gorilla smile is strangely pleasant.
The motion capture used to bring these apes to life gets more and more impressive with each film. I know I’ve said this for the previous two films, but these apes look so so real it is actually incredible. From the wrinkles on their faces to the snow on their fur, it all looks stunning. You can see every emotion in their faces and their eyes. It’s difficult to know where the actor’s performance stops and where the special effects take over, butt he fact that you can recognise Andy Serkis in Caesar’s face probably goes to show that these actors do a really fantastic job. It honestly looks so real and so amazing that they might as well have just trained real monkeys to talk and act.
Director Matt Reeves has done another fantastic job of continuing the story of Caesar and his apes as the world slowly crumbles and becomes a planet of apes. You can really see a lot of his influences in this film too. Caesar and his gang riding on horseback through the lands brings to mind westerns like ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales‘, whilst the military sneaking through the woods has Vietnam parallels. Harrleson’s Colonel is very similar to Colonel Kurtz from ‘Apocalypse Now‘ and the army’s camp bears a striking resemblance to the concentration camp from ‘The Great Escape‘. All great films that Reeves has taken the core ideas from and incorporated into this movie perfectly and they all fit with the themes so well. Themes such as war and revenge and freedom.
It may be quite a dark and hardcore film, but it’s a really good one. It’s so well made and crafted and it works on every level. It’s another great exploration of Caesar’s story and the horrors that war can cause. But thankfully it is also an enjoyable one.
JACK’S SCORE: 4/5