Due to this weekend’s official debut of Spider-Man in the MCU, 20th Century Fox was smart enough to allow critics to witness the awesomeness that is War For the Planet of the Apes a couple weeks ahead. Sure, GHG plans to use its Marvel fanboy fingers to post the Webhead’s Homecoming tomorrow; but you might want to show a bit of nerd-patience if you can only see one, for Andy Serkis‘ highly emotive motion-capture performance — all hail, Caeser! — is nothing short of revolutionary, and would take an “EXCELSIOR!”-heavy performance from Spidey to even come close.
Having the ability to convey believable expression via CGI is one thing; having the ability to convey incredible life-giving wonder and hope, and severe, excruciatingly empathetic torment and pain through CGI, is another. Considering that this once Gollum had little to nothing to play off of beside a greenscreen, Mark Bomback‘s strong script and Matt Reeves‘ whizbang direction (Reeves also co-penned the screenplay), Serkis’ performance in War for the Apes — and the entire trilogy, in fact — should go down as one of the most respected acting achievements in cinematic history.
It’s easy for one to dismiss/overlook a film centered around special effects, but Reeves should earn as much credit for harmonizing between the film’s contrasting elements: the use of breathtaking, practical film locations in both 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and next weekend’s threequel with the frightening visual effects that bring ape communication to real life. Just as impressive, Reeves combines the heart of Rupert Wyatt’s 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes with the “Call of Monkey” tenacity of Dawn; thus WFTPOTA isn’t short of action scenes or characters (both human and ape) that will make you care.
War is a spectacular film and an even greater finish to a fine trilogy, but doesn’t go withouts its share of issues, albeit minor. There’s no way an entire trained military unit wound allow a small orphan girl (the cute-as-a-button Amiah Miller) to simply stroll along and interfere with their master plans without much notice or repercusson (that said, we’re watching a near 8-hours of monkeys speaking English and shooting AR-15’s, so I guess anything’s possible). At least the antagonist’s endgame, played by the right man to do the job in Woody Harrelson, is indeed right-in-front-of-our-eyes brilliant. It’s also great to see Harrelson, as an Us vs. Them tormented Colonel, stay out of the quirky realm for once and play it straight and sadist, while Steve Zahn fills the comedic relief as “Bad Ape”. Yeah, the name says it all. Moreover, Zahn works with the same high level of grimmace and eye facials as Serkis; many of the hysterical senior citizen ape’s moments also save the film from becoming too dreary or depressing, especially once our monkey quartet reach the death-campy darkness of the “guerilla” compound.
In all War for the Planet of the Apes, thanks to the next Batman film director(!!) and the superiority of Weta Digital, is CGI cinema at its highest level. The trilogy goes off into the dusk of a touching, memorable note. Like many great war movies that have blessed the silverscreen in the last century, this fight for survival, for this planet of the apes, is not such a simple one, all thanks to heartwarming dialogue and expressive practical and VFX performances that might have us questioning even our own humanity. Are we any better than apes? Are we any different? Not unlesss the sincere, thoughtful moral compass of Serkis’ Caeser receives an Academy nomination (or win). Hell, give Serkis his own flippin’ category, or else.
20th Century Fox’s War for the Planet of the Apes swings into theaters on July 14th.