In clever title cards, viewers are succinctly reminded what happened during the Rise and Dawn before the Planet of the Apes was consumed by War. Still under assault by the U.S. military after rogue Koba's violent actions in the previous film, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his clan hide out in a remote encampment and prepare to travel to a safer home in the desert. A rogue military Colonel (Woody Harrelson) leads paramilitary organization Alpha-Omega in the fight to wipe out all apes and restore humans as the dominant species. When the Colonel and his men invade Caesar's world and take lives, Caesar is forced to avenge his family at the risk of adopting the brutal tactics of old enemy Koba. Gorgeously photographed, with incredible effects and affecting drama, War for the Planet of the Apes is a fitting resolution for this trilogy.
Over the last two films, this modern Apes trilogy has transitioned from human leads to apes commanding the action. The charismatic leader Caesar is tired of fighting. He seeks peace when early lookouts for Alpha-Omega are caught and released unharmed. The Colonel wants none of it, and warns that the Simian Flu virus that led to the apes' rise has mutated. Humans previously unaffected by the virus are becoming mute and regressing into primitive beings after exposure. The Colonel keeps an army of apes once loyal to Koba as slaves, calling them Donkeys and working them without food or water. He soon leads an undercover operation into Caesar's home, killing several of Caesar's family members, and Caesar leaves the group to avenge the fallen. He is accompanied by orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite). As they seek the Colonel's stronghold, the group encounters and absorbs a young, mute girl, Nova (Amiah Miller), and "Bad Ape" (Steve Zahn), a chimpanzee who taught himself to speak after escaping a zoo.
Anyone concerned that a film led by CGI-animated creatures will not be compelling need look no further than War for the Planet of the Apes for assurance. These apes are characters, with natural emotion and fully realized personalities and appearances. Caesar has always been captivating, thanks to the genius Serkis behind the digital mask, and returning director Matt Reeves expands the role of Maurice into a guardian for young Nova and good-natured hero for the film. Zahn is excellent as Bad Ape, who provides welcome comic relief amid the stark landscapes and tough action. This character is wonderfully written by Matt Bomback and Reeves, and provides much context for the conflict. Humans, save the Colonel and his crew, are largely absent from this film, which is shot fully from the perspective of the apes. This perspective offers a unique and entertaining vision of Reeves' post-apocalyptic world.
As I watched War I couldn't help but marvel at how technically and stylistically proficient it is. I rarely dive into vocabulary from my college film-criticism classes anymore (and won't here), but War unpretentiously checks a lot of boxes. Reeves' direction is spot-on, and he does an excellent job integrating his digital characters and CGI-assisted landscapes into the practical action. The cinematography from Michael Seresin is gorgeous, and both William Hoy's editing and Michael Giacchino's score are pitch-perfect. There are too many allusions to the original Planet of the Apes series to list, but these never feel forced. In fact, War celebrates that legacy by moving forward with its own ambitious drama. This movie is about loss and rebirth, and it is the apes, finally, whose ambitions are most pure.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Fox releases War with a 2.40:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer that boasts HDR10. Yes, this is an upscale from a 2K DI, but it looks absolutely stunning. From the impeccably clear opening title cards, it is evident that this presentation is a big notch above the very-competent 1080p transfer on the Blu-ray. Most impressive here are the beautifully realized textures and abundant fine-object details, which are complemented by a gorgeous HDR pass that offers eye-popping colors and inky blacks. In an early battle scene, smoke and fire grenades are launched at the apes' compound. I was taken aback at the searing reds and oranges amid a sea of green and brown trees and circling grey smoke. Every single detail is presented in impeccable clarity here: The apes look utterly amazing and the landscapes are deep and completely clean. There are no edge halos, no aliasing and no digital tinkering. Shadow details are abundant and blacks never waiver. This is a top-notch presentation that proves a solid 4K transfer can improve on a 2K upscale.
The Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, is similarly impressive, and offers an absolutely immersive experience akin to the theatrical presentation. The pleasing score is weighty and layered appropriately amid dialogue and effects, of which there are many. Ambient effects, like a waterfall and rain, surround the viewer. Action effects pan through the surrounds and rumble the subwoofer without ever becoming cluttered or harsh. Gunfire and chaotic hand-to-paw combat swing through each speaker. Dialogue is impressive whether delivered from the center channel or surrounds. I noticed no issues with crackle or hiss, and the track's range is impressive throughout. The disc also includes a host of 5.1 dubs and corresponding subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K disc, a Blu-ray and code to redeem iTunes and UltraViolet digital copies. The discs are packed in a black eco-case that is wrapped in a glossy slipcover. Both discs include the Commentary by Director Matt Reeves, but the remainder of the extras are hosted by the Blu-ray. You get a reel of Deleted Scenes (23:03/HD) that show the actors in motion-capture suits; Waging the War for the Planet of the Apes (29:38/HD), a decent making-of with interviews and on-set footage; All About Caesar (12:40/HD), which focuses on the character and his legacy; WETA: Pushing Boundaries, which takes you to the effects studio; Music for the Apes (6:20/HD), about the neat score; Apes: The Meaning of it All (20:15/HD), which covers the entire Apes franchise; The Apes Saga: An Homage (7:48/HD), which recalls some of the classic franchise films; Concept Art Galleries; and Theatrical Trailers.
Matt Reeves returns to this modern Apes trilogy for a second time to direct the excellent and affecting War for the Planet of the Apes. Caesar and his clan lead the drama and action in this stark, handsomely shot conclusion to the Caesar trilogy. The ape effects are top notch, and War benefits from excellent performances by Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn and Woody Harrelson. Fox's 4K Ultra HD package offers excellent picture and sound and some interesting extras. Highly Recommended.