If you want a masterclass in how to update a classic franchise into a slick, modern, engrossing sci-fi thriller, look no further than the Apes trilogy, which began in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and is now rounded off with this perfect third-parter.
Following the post-apocalyptic conflict of the previous film, the apes try to live a peaceful life in the forest, evading the remains of the human military who see the very existence of the apes as a threat. Ceasar (Andy Serkis), now firmly established as the apes’ leader, attempts to leave the forest with his companions to find pastures new.
But when his wife is murdered by the humans he goes on a personal mission of revenge against The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a cult-like leader obsessed with building a wall, and enslaving the apes to do it.
While the films in this trilogy may follow a more traditional narrative than the bizarre twists and turns of the original five, each film is nonetheless a different beast. This is not just the same story re-told three times, and Ceasar has a truly epic arc across the three, alongside several other apes who have been with him since the beginning.
As the trilogy progresses the films rely more and more on the remarkable CGI creatures. The first film was ground-breaking for its characterisation of Ceasar, played by performance capture expert Serkis, but was mostly about its human characters, with James Franco in the lead role. By part three, there’s only one substantive human role, and even he is absent for much of the film.
It’s Ceasar and his mute simian companions that are the stars, with the film’s significant emotional pull resting entirely on the ability of computer-generated apes to emote in a realistic way. It’s an achievement which can’t be understated and in a just world would put it on a path to awards glory.
The new trilogy has also maintained the largely bleak outlook of the originals – even the victories come at a heavy price. It preserves the competing allegiances and lack of a black and white view of good and bad. Characters are sympathetic based on what they do not who they are and to describe it as humans vs apes is an oversimplification. This is a bold and morally ambiguous tale.
What results is a film that is the best of all of them. Not just the new films. This is the best Planet of the Apes film ever. This trilogy has taken the themes and character names of the classic originals and transported them to places never previously thought possible. This will be remembered as the great sci-fi trilogy of our generation, maybe even out-lasting Charlton Heston’s daft original, and War for the Planet of the Apes is the jewel in its crown.