Movie review: Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar nom for latest 'Apes' film

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jul 17 2017 05:25 PM

"War for the Planet of the Apes" is the third of the "Planet of the Apes" reboot series that started auspiciously with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2011), and its even better sequel "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" (2014). The series recounts the effects of a viral-based anti-Alzheimer's drug which enhanced the intelligence of apes, but was fatal to humans, causing a pandemic called Simian Flu. Under the leadership of Caesar, the apes bond together and create a colony of their own in direct conflict against the surviving humans who want to eradicate them. 

In this installment, Caesar is seeking personal vendetta against a ruthless human soldier called Colonel who had killed off Caesar's wife and son, as well as captured his posse of apes into slavery to build a wall around their encampment area. En route to the Colonel's base, Caesar picks up a little orphan human girl Nova and a delightful zoo chimpanzee called Bad Ape. Caesar and his cohort have to figure out a plan to rescue their comrades and destroy their human tormentors. 

Be ready to keep your eyes on the screen to read. Among the apes, only Caesar talked clearly and consistently. Maurice (Karin Konoval) spoke very sparingly. Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) spoke in a slow comical drawl. Most of ape conversations were in sign language, so you need to read subtitles to know what is being said and what is going on. You may miss an important detail if you glance away at the wrong times.

This is the movie that should really put ends to any doubt that, motion capture notwithstanding, Andy Serkis needs to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. He carried the whole film from beginning to end. His screen presence is magnetic and commanding. Whenever he spoke, we would listen to his authoritative voice. The final scenes may drip with melodrama, however, Serkis's performance as Caesar remained unscathed by this.

Woody Harrelson can really get under your skin playing such a sick, slimy and despicable character as the Colonel. His character went through his own hell, and what we see is a sorry by-product of his hate. Represented by the Colonel, humans are only antagonists in this story. Unlike the first two films where there are several good human characters to redeem our kind, here there is only one left -- a kind, innocent, but mute girl Nova (Amiah Miller), upon whom the fate of humanity rests. 

The first two films have been nominated for an Oscar in visual effects. I think they should win it already with this third one. Their motion capture of the actor's facial acting for the various apes is impeccable. Aside from Caesar, Maurice and Bad Ape, outstanding also were the actors playing the turncoat Red a.k.a. Donkey (Ty Olson), the traitor albino Winter (Alecks Paunovic), and the loyal reliable Rocket (Terry Notary).

Another technical aspect I noted to be extraordinary in this third episode is the musical score by Michael Giacchino. The film has a lot of silent scenes and the musical score is instrumental in bringing out the emotion of these scenes. The best sequence for me is the lilting score that accompanied the exciting escape scene. Appropriately, there is also a soaring score accompanying a biblically-inspired scene echoing the book of Exodus.

The title says war, but actually the only big battle scene came only at the final 30 minutes of the movie. The first two hours only served to slowly build up on Caesar's internal rage until he got to confront the Colonel and finally vent his revenge. When the time came for the actual big final face to face encounter between the two foes, there was absolutely no dialogue. Only their faces and the music delivered the intense drama. 

This film is very good, especially because of Serkis's memorable central performance as Caesar. But to be totally honest, because of the sometimes unbearably slow pacing, lack of action and deafening silences, I enjoyed the first two films of this reboot series far more than this one. 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."