War for The Planet of The Apes: Steve Zahn is a Glimmer of Hope in a Depressing but Impressive Third Act (Review)

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From 20th Century Fox and director Matt Reeves comes the third film in this incredible revitalisation of the Planet of the Apes franchise titled ‘War For The Planet of The Apes’. Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Terry Notary and Karin Konoval, the film hits theaters July 14, 2017.warapesposter

Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson). After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both of their species and the future of the planet.


APES. TOGETHER. STRONG. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the same tagline or phrase that the villainous Koba (Toby Kebbell) said in Dawn of The Planet of The Apes. His presence or lack thereof in War for The Planet of The Apes is definitely felt. Caesar is barely able to lead his army anymore with a massive human military force trying to wipe them out and then use the survivors as slaves to help them reinforce their camp.

Woody Harrelson stars in Twentieth Century Fox's "War for the Planet of the Apes."

The film starts out with a stunning battle in the forest, followed by a shocking act of betrayal that leads Caesar down a path of darkness and a quest for vengeance. Andy Serkis is an amazing performer and I’m still sad that motion-capture isn’t yet considered at the Academy Awards because if it was recognised he’d be getting nods for each of these three films by now, as well as Lord of The Rings. He plays Caesar as a hardened leader, but also one that is on the ropes as he faces his strongest opposition yet in Woody Harrelson’s psychotic army general who has created a slave camp for apes. These two have some incredible scenes together and the tension between them is unbearable.

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War For The Planet of The Apes is a slow burn. I hate using that description but that’s what it was. There’s a huge action piece at the start, then there’s a long journey to find the human camp, followed by another long stint where we turn the film into a prison escape, then close with a finale that rivals Michael Bay’s explosives budget. I don’t think the pacing was well thought out in this film and not handled nearly as well as the second in the trilogy. Also, as great as the finale was, it didn’t ramp up as well as the first movie either, which climaxed on the Golden Gate Bridge with a spectacular battle. What makes War for The Planet special however, are the performances… My god, they are so strong – from everyone, especially newcomer Steve Zahn.

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Zahn plays Bad Ape — a new ally that Caesar encounters on his journey. Zahn has less hair than the other apes, he’s kinda goofy looking with his big eyes and dumbfounded look, but the way he plays him is so special and moving. You can’t help but love Bad Ape — he just wants to have friends, because he’s been living on his own for a long time. There’s an incredible moment where he goes from telling a small child to stop touching his things, to where he says she can have them as long as Caesar and his apes stay and be friends. From the tone in Zahn’s voice, which borders on heart-wrenching to his scenes being the only ones that have any light-hearted or dare-I-say comedic moments, Bad Ape is the only uplifting character in an otherwise darkly depressing film.

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If I have to see another baby Ape cry for its parent, I may also have to assume the fetal position and not leave my bed for the rest of the day. Matt Reeves crafted a superb and emotionally exhausting conclusion to this fantastic trilogy, but it takes a toll on you.. This movie way more than any of the others, and that’s saying something. I’m not sure where they take this franchise from here, because they could just leave it be and tell the fans to now pick up the classic films and all would be well in the Apes lore, but I suspect we could see a new trilogy one day. That might be easier said than done however considering what happens here…

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