I was fortunate to steal a little bit of time last week to see movies in the theater with both of my girls. My daughter and I enjoyed Spiderman: Homecoming on Wednesday, and my wife and I watched War for the Planet of the Apes on Friday. These were two fine films, but Mats Reeves's contribution to the Planet of the Apes series was hands-down the finer film. In fact, I don't think I've seen anything this year that I enjoyed (or would recommend) more than that film.
Reeves tells a compelling story that pays homage to Apocalypse Now (in one subterranean scene, someone has scrawled "Ape-pocalypse Now" on the wall in red paint) while commenting on the nature of intelligence and the importance of speech. The movie plunges us into the central conflict with some expository notes on the simian flu just before a harrowing battle scene. The pacing here was excellent. Reeves (who co-wrote and directed) seems to have a keen eye for when to take the foot off the gas an allow for some fine moments of narrative reflection.
This film impressed on all fronts for me. The writing was excellent, the acting was strong (Woody Harrelson gives one of his best turns in a long time here--his final scenes are riveting), the effects are believable and will hold up over time, and the score was pitch-perfect. It's rare that I notice the score very often in great films, and that's usually a good thing. I don't like to be given clues about by emotional temperature by the filmmakers. But I was cognizant of the score (that insistent, single-note piano snippet particularly) throughout this film and it was always complementary to the storytelling. This is a violent film that feels contemplative and reflective as well. It's definitely a film that asks some important questions about the nature of mercy, the importance of our ability to articulate our thoughts, and the horrors of genocide.
Andy Serkis, as is usual for his work, is awesome here as Caesar. The swagger, gate, and facial expressions he renders bring the character to life, making the film's third act all the more difficult to swallow.
I give this film an 'A' mark and put it high up there in the pantheon of recent sci-fi and fantasy coming out of Hollywood. Give it a look in the theaters, friends, because you'll want to feel that audio in the film's violent conclusion. I thought Cinema 14 was launching for outer space, right there beneath my feet...