Now on Blu-ray: The Majestic Monkey Business of ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’

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War for the Planet of the Apes

It’s so easy to get disillusioned and cynical when it comes to Hollywood’s excessive habit of unnecessary reboots and remakes. “Oh, they’re remaking that?” is a common refrain infused with heavy sarcasm on the internet. Of course, remakes and reboots are just easy fodder when the reality is that the movie industry is one that has become more and more afraid of risky films, especially the bigger ones where the budgets are routinely in excess of $100 million. Though we love to complain about the lack of imagination run rampant throughout an entire industry, when it comes to daring works on a large canvas, the audiences just don’t show – look at the box office receipts for Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049 for evidence of this. As much as everyone says they want risky and challenging works to emerge from the studio system, they sometimes forget that means that these audacious works are going to be rather unsatisfying in both their construction and conclusion, hence the audiences’ appetite for the familiar with a big rousing action sequence and a happy ending to wrap it all up.

And yet there has been a rebooted series to come along that somehow checks off almost every box – the revitalized Planet of the Apes. What started with Rise, escalated with Dawn, and concluded with War for the Planet of the Apes has been quite possibly the best blockbuster trilogy of 21st century, films that featured groundbreaking special effects, intelligent and challenging themes, and wholly satisfying action sequences. Now the conclusion to this great saga lands on Blu-ray, with War for the Planet of the Apes bringing the series to a thrilling and heartbreaking conclusion on a disc packed full of special features including audio commentary and deleted scenes along with featurettes about the challenging production of this daring blockbuster.

Once again, Andy Serkis puts on the mo-cap suit and along with a team of digital artist bring one of the most unique heroes back to the screen in Caesar. Here is a protagonist that is seasoned warrior but wants nothing more than to never battle again. But a unit of special forces under the aegis of a rogue Colonel (Woody Harrelson) stage a raid on the secluded home of the ape society. Despite showing mercy in his victory, the Colonel and his men attack in the night, slaying Caesar’s wife and son. This sets the ape leader on a path to vengeance, accompanied by Maurice (Karin Konaval) and Rocket (Terry Notary), and eventually joined by Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) and a young, mute human girl, Nova (Amiah Miller). That quest for vengeance leads Caesar and company to the fortified compound where the Colonel is running a slave labor camp with the captured apes. The Colonel and his men are preparing for war, but not with the enemy you might expect.

The special features on the War for the Planet of the Apes Blu-ray dive deep into the varied influences of director Matt Reeves’ blockbuster. The director himself states that he and co-writer Mark Bomback dove deep into the cinematic history of war films, and rewatching the film causes all these influence to spring to the forefront. This isn’t just influenced by Apocalypse Now, though its influence is very obvious at times, it’s also influenced by Spartacus, The Great Escape, The Grand Illusion, Stalag 17, and others. War dives deep into themes of warfare and what that brings out in mankind (or apekind, if you will), reinforcing the notion that just because you’re assured of righteousness doesn’t make it so. Even more, it further emphasizes that war in the cause of vengeance takes you down the dark, inescapable paths where victory is assured for neither side, only further death and destruction that will repeat itself through generations.

What stands out most about War for the Planet of the Apes and its predecessors that sets it apart from so many other blockbusters is the weight the films place on the consequences of actions. Too often action films prioritize the visceral thrill of a shootout, allowing a rugged hero to mow down hordes of anonymous baddies without the audience blinking an eye to the mayhem. In this new Apes series, every bullet matters. Every bullet has a consequence. Every bullet fired one way brings two more in the opposite direction. Even though Reeves obviously wants the audience to side with the apes, he never allows the audience to revel in the destruction of the humans. There’s a humanity to the villainy of the Colonel and his men that you can’t simply cheer at carnage for the sake of carnage, because it’s so explicitly shown that for every horrific event regardless which side it will unleash more ugliness that audience is more emotionally invested in peace than more action. Think about that for a second, a blockbuster that is able to foster an environment where the audience is hoping for a path for its characters to avoid violent conflict. It’s quite an impressive achievement.

There’s a part of me that prays that this series can move forward, but it’s pretty obvious that War for the Planet of the Apes is the conclusion of this viscerally thrilling and intellectually stimulating series of blockbusters. Now Matt Reeves will move on and take The Batman, meaning that it is easily my most-anticipated of the impending slew of DC movies due in the coming years. The original Planet of the Apes movies blended B-movie theatrics with intelligent themes about evolution and the nature of mankind, and this new series has taken that mantle and taken it even further technologically and thematically. Remember, the next time you’re hit with a hard dose of cynicism at the announcement of another reboot/remake that it worked for Planet of the Apes, and it brought about a truly special blockbuster trilogy that eschewed the standard for something much more daring. Apes together strong.

War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Overall Score
4.5

Summary

Likely the final installment of one of the smartest and best blockbuster franchises of recent memory, War for the Planet of the Apes brings the series to a close with a thrilling, emotional, and intellectually stimulating conclusion.

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