Second Sight: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

One of the greatest technological achievements of 2017, Matt Reeves' War for the Planet of the Apes is an excruciating exploration of the cinematic epic. Stitching together elements of neo-westerns, war films, and golden age storytelling, the final result is a somber apocalypse. There are no gods in the ravaged world of the Apes trilogy and Reeves' careful focus presents a story of the defining moments for humans and apes, both the beginnings and the end. This is storytelling of the highest caliber, so high, that it manages to almost lose itself in the final act, but is overwhelmingly redeemed by incomprehensible visual effects and a career defining performance from Andy Serkis.

Evolved apes and the remnants of humanity are locked in a bloody conflict, in which the stakes are the right to exist. The ever evolving simian flu casts a shadow on humanity that not only blurs the line between species, but also instigates the final battle in which the fate of planet Earth hangs in the balance. Reeves and Mark Bomback’s script is the bleak pinnacle of a revered trilogy, an amalgam of six years of work by various creative talents that presents the evolution of Serkis’ noble Caesar and his compatriots amidst the end of the time of man. 

Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a stunning introduction, carefully laying a framework that would be built upon by Reeves in the following two outings. What begins as a cautionary tale about meddling with Mother Nature then transitions into a thoughtful rumination on tolerance and the sins of the father in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. These two entries combine to form the basis of where War begins: A desolate, hopeless Earth with dwindling humans relentlessly hunting the apes for no other purpose than to not enter extinction alone. This is the most chilling revelation of the final film. When Woody Harrelson's scene stealing Commander reveals his motivations, darker implications of the futility of humanity's plight are implanted within the viewer, coming to fruition during the undeniably biblical finale. 

Weta Digital has designed the visual effects for all three films. Their breakthroughs in motion capture and CGI have allowed for shooting to be down outside of the studio, which helps to enhance the realness of the apes, particularly with respect to their scenes of anxious dialogue and emotional reflection. Having won six Academy awards for their work, it is all but a given their efforts will be nominated here. Michael Seresin's patient cinematography accentuates the reality challenging visuals with focused captures of action that would normally be confusing, given the larger than life action sequences. There's a wonderful take in the first act involving human soldiers and their quarry that blurs the line between reality and computer generated images so perfectly, the mind is tricked into accepting what it is seeing as the truth. This is an exceptional achievement. 

The apes’ language consists primarily of sign language, requiring the motion captured actors to communicate with their bodies before their movements are animated through a computer, relying entirely on the technology to get the point across and War more than succeeds. One of the strongest testaments to the film's brilliance is that it is virtually a silent film, with only Caesar and the Commander having any real dialogue and the audience is never the wiser, fully engrossed in the saga of a species that defines the difference between humanity and being humane. Ultimately, this is the message. Reeves wondrously brings everything to a close by mirroring the humble inception of mankind, as if to remind the viewer of the cyclical nature of time and constant presence of hope. 

In theaters now, War for the Planet of the Apes is a difficult film. It nearly falls apart under the weight of its own brutality, but never loses its way towards being a moving story about identity and legacy. There are breathtaking, iconic shots and subtle homages to the source material that will have lifelong fans smiling and newcomers in awe of the sheer scope of a story that began decades ago. Thrilling action scenes and heart wrenching story elements abound in Reeves' tempestuous finale, delivering a deeply unsettling and unremittingly beautiful coda to one of the greatest franchises of the 21st century.

-Kyle Jonathan