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War for the Planet of the Apes

Once again, I am amazed by just how good this new Planet of the Apes franchise is. Both of the previous movies (Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) were my favorite movies of their respective years. War for the Planet of the Apes would probably also be this year's hands-down favorite if it didn't have to compete with Logan.

The most amazing and surprising thing is just how unlike a "summer Hollywood blockbuster" this summer Hollywood blockbuster looks and feels. These movies have, as their premise, an apocalyptic world-changing event, but yet the writers and directors manage to avoid the traps of making an apocalyptic movie. The stories and conflicts are always very personal and feel small-scale and low-key compared to the events going on around them. The focus of the movies also increasingly shifts away from the human characters and towards the ape characters.

The previous movie went a good 20 or 30 minutes without any dialogue at all, as its first act focused on the ape characters who use sign language as the dominant form of communication. War goes even further, as the majority of the dialogue throughout the entire movie comes in the form of subtitled sign language between otherwise speechless ape characters. It's a surprisingly quiet movie with a very minimalist sound design. As such, anyone speaking anywhere in the theater is a huge distraction, so hopefully you don't get stuck sitting next to anybody who feels they have to narrate everything they're seeing to the companion next to them. You know who you are! Asshole...

War for the Planet of the Apes - soldiers captured
Most of the dialogue is in the form of sign language and gestures between ape characters.

... Same goes for the scum-bag who sat in the front row and then spent the entire third act checking his phone -- without even bothering to dim the brightness. You're in the front row! Everyone in the theater can see your phone glowing under the screen!

The Great Ape Escape

Also surprising is that instead of turning into an epic battle (which Dawn successfully executed), the climax of War stays fresh and interesting by turning into an escape movie with some Bridge Over the River Kwai-like scenes. While Dawn speeds up in its second half, War actually slows down, but it still works exceptionally well.

Throughout the entire movie, I kept thinking that it would be very appropriate for the film to end with a certain anti-climax. But I kept telling myself that there's no way that a mainstream Hollywood summer blockbuster would allow itself to avoid a climactic showdown with the bad guy, and that surely the movie wouldn't end the way that I was hoping it would end. But it's a testament to how smartly-written these movies are, and how brave they are in their execution, that my expectation for an anti-climax finale is exactly what the film chooses to do, and it works perfectly!

Time for Serkis to get an Oscar nomination?

I think it's really about time that we have a conversation about Andy Serkis deserving an Oscar for his body of work going all the way back to his performance as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. He did win "Best Supporting Actor" awards from the Academy of Science Fiction (and other agencies) for Lord of the Rings and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but he's yet to receive even a nomination from the big-whig Oscars Academy. The Oscar's continued failure to recognize his accomplishments could probably be an indication of how out of touch they are with modern movie-making technology. They apparently dismiss him on the simple account of him being a motion-capture actor, as if that means he somehow isn't actually performing.

War for the Planet of the Apes - Maurice and Bad Ape
Maurice really comes into his own in this film, and Bad Ape steals every scene he's in.

As good as Serkis is (and always has been), it's really Steve Zahn's comic-relief Bad Ape who steals the show this time around. If Serkis deserves an Oscar, then Zahn maybe deserves some awards for "Best Supporting Actor" (especially in a comic role). But then again, Karin Konoval's wisened Maurice (who's been alongside Caesar for all three movies) really comes into his own here as well, and carries most of the scenes that he's in. And when Bad Ape and Maurice share the spotlight (as happens often in the final act of the film), it's all solid movie gold!

All in all, War for the Planet of the Apes stands up with its predecessors. It's an exceptional capstone for an unexpectedly-exceptional reboot / prequel trilogy. I highly recommend it.

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