REVIEW: Overlord (2018)

Directed by: Julius Avery
Cast: Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbæk, John Magaro

Written by Lucy Buglass

As someone who isn’t much of a war film fan, I was apprehensive about Overlord. I often find war films quite repetitive in nature, and they’ve never really appealed to me. So when I was kindly invited to a press screening on behalf of JUMPCUT, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I tried not to set my expectations too high, but as a J.J. Abrams fan, I was interested to see what he’d brought to the table as a producer. Maybe a blend of war and horror is exactly what I needed.

Straight away, the thing that stood out to me was the quality of the sound, especially in a cinema setting. If you’re able to, I would absolutely recommend you catch Overlord on the big screen because of it. The film opens with soldiers on a plane, and the deafening booms of bombs combined with the roar of the plane really puts you right in the middle of the action. This sequence is one of the most immersive experiences I’ve ever had. You’re forced to witness the horrors of war straight off the bat and identify with the soldiers’ point of view. Later on in the film, this excellent use of sound really adds to the suspense and makes for a truly uncomfortable experience.

After loving Wyatt Russell in Black Mirror, I was looking forward to his performance in particular, but the whole cast really delivered. Each solider is believable, flawed, and different in their personality to the point where you feel like you’re there with them. The character development throughout is excellent, and no one feels two-dimensional or glossed over. This is one of the problems I have with war films, that sometimes everyone seems to blend into one group and no one is easily distinguishable. With Overlord, every character has both purpose and a personality; something I thoroughly enjoyed. The characters that the soldiers encounter along the way are treated exactly the same too, and it’s nice to see secondary characters being treated with respect.

If you’re a fan of gory special effects, this is one to watch for sure. When it finally becomes clear to us what’s going on, and dark secrets are revealed, it is a terrifying experience. It’s best you go into it not knowing any more than that, as it would be a shame to have it spoiled. What I can say, is that the effects are nightmare inducing and reminiscent of many body horror films. The rest you need to witness for yourself. I’ve seen my fair share of gruesome stuff, but this really stood out to me. Overlord deserves recognition for its visual effects alone, they are a welcome addition to the horror genre.

Overall, Overlord is a smart film that blends war and horror together effortlessly, resulting in a truly terrifying experience. I’m unsure how it’ll translate on my TV after experiencing it on such a large-scale, but I am certainly up for watching it again to see what it’s like. It’s a very entertaining couple of hours that are action-packed and gruesome throughout.

 

Lucy’s Verdict

3-5

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REVIEW: Where Hands Touch

Year: 2018
Directed by: Amma Asante
Cast: Abbie Cornish, Amandla Stenberg, George MacKay, Christopher Eccleston

Written by Fiona Underhill

British director Amma Asante has prioritised telling the stories of black and mixed-race characters in period films during her career so far – a genre where they often they are over-looked and ignored. Her breakthrough feature Belle starred Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a real-life historical figure in 18th century period costume and stately homes – which is a setting that is usually dominated by white actors on British television and in film. Her follow up A United Kingdom was set in the 1950s and starred David Oyelowo as the King of Botswana who falls in love with a white British woman. Now comes Where Hands Touch and stars Amandla Stenberg as a mixed-race German girl who falls in love with the son of a Nazi officer. Asante has shown herself to be an empathetic filmmaker, exploring the nuances of situations where characters struggle with their identities.

Twelve years in the making, this has been very much a passion project for Asante, involving a lot of historical research into the 25,000 people of colour who lived in Nazi Germany. This film focuses on those who were known as the ‘Rhineland Bastards’ and were the result of French soldiers of African descent being in that area during WWI. Leyna (Stenberg) is the product of one such union between a soldier and her mother (played by Bright Star’s Abbie Cornish). She has a younger brother who is white and as a result, Leyna feels very much the odd-one-out. Although she is happy and mostly accepted in her small community in the Rhineland, things are becoming increasingly dangerous. Her mother knows that if the Nazis come looking for Jewish people and find Leyna, they will probably just cart her away as well. Her mother believes that they will be able to disappear in Berlin, only to find that the big city brings its own problems.

Leyna must carry false papers with her, stating she has been sterilised (to prevent her mixing with white Germans). However, she meets and falls in love with Lutz (George MacKay), whose father (played by Christopher Eccleston) is a high-ranking Nazi. George MacKay has impressed me in Pride and Captain Fantastic and he does well again here, portraying a ‘gung-ho’ wannabe soldier, eager to get the front and join in the real fight. However, there is obviously another side to him, shown through the sensitive portrayal of his tender romance with Leyna. Amandla Stenberg was recently seen in Everything Everything with Nick Robinson and will soon be starring in The Hate U Give. She gives a fantastic performance here as a young woman, struggling to find her place in the world.

There has been some controversy surrounding this film – that it is insensitive to show a romance (which includes a Nazi soldier) against the backdrop of the Holocaust. This film does not ignore the Holocaust, but it does choose to focus more on a little-known aspect of the war, portraying a minority that did exist and most people would not have considered before. Also, I can understand, in our current times, why portraying a sympathetic Nazi is problematic. However, I think it is realistic to show how easily a German teenager could be brainwashed into believing the propaganda he has been fed, whilst also retaining his humanity and being capable of loving a mixed-race girl. The evil is an external pressure, rather than inherent within him. It also contrasts Lutz with his father, who is jaded due to having lived through WWI. However, his father still carries out despicable orders to save his own skin. This film does not present the issues as black-and-white, the characters are complex and flawed, but that does not mean you can’t feel something for them. It is Leyna’s relationship with her mother (and her own identity) that is perhaps the most moving aspect of the film though.

I believe this filmmaker, these actors and this story deserves your support, so if you are able to find Where Hands Touch in a movie theater near you, give it a chance. It is on selected release in the US now, UK release date is to be confirmed.

Fiona’s Verdict:

4

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Year: 2017
Directed by: Mike Newell
Starring: Lily James, Matthew Goode, Michiel Huisman, Jessica Brown Findlay, Katherine Parkinson, Glen Powell, Tom Courtenay, Penelope Wilton

WRITTEN BY SARAH BUDDERY

Let’s face it, the world is going to sh*t. The world of cinema isn’t always just big explosive blockbusters, and scientific head-scratchers, and sometimes we just need a cosy, picture-perfect film to escape into and forget about all our problems. ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ may have a mouthful of a title, but it is remarkably easy to digest, and with a cast full of British national treasures and ‘Downton Abbey’ alumni, it’s all just pretty bloody lovely really.

Juliet Ashton (James) is an author who, after happening across a letter from a book club in Guernsey, decides to visit the eccentric group of characters and find out more about them. Faced with the German occupation of their small island, the society came together over books, friendship, and a rather unpalatable potato pie. However, under the surface there are secrets and questions that need to be answered.

The plot moves at the genteel pace of a Sunday evening BBC period drama, the costumes are gorgeous, and the scenery is incredibly picturesque. Likewise, the cast are very easy on the eye and its chock full of British acting institutions, giving it all the comfort and warmth of the titular pie. Lily James is always a delight on the screen, and she oozes an effortless likeable charm. Fellow ex-‘Downton’ star Jessica Brown Findlay might not have too many moments on screen, but her firebrand character is a constant presence and it is the reveals regarding this character that keeps the plot ticking over. These aren’t quite world-changing reveals, more a gentle clutch of the pearls, but this film never tries to be anything outlandish or ground-breaking.

It’s perhaps about 20 minutes too long, and to find a fault, it would be that the plot is a little thin. The German occupation of Guernsey provides a fascinating backdrop, but the atrocities of war are only ever briefly mentioned, hinted at, or they occur off camera. There are moments where the story feels frustratingly slow, and despite the aforementioned reveals causing a slight ripple, we all know it is going to end well, so there doesn’t always seem to be a purpose in taking things quite so slowly.

With great performances, and beautifully shot locations, ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ is a harmless slice of escapism. It is charming, twee, and just all-round delightful with its themes about the power of stories, friendship, and that good old British stiff upper lip. This is perfect lazy Sunday afternoon watching; your Mum and Nan will love it, and so will you.

SARAH’S RATING: 7/10

Journey’s End

Year: 2018
Directed by: Saul Dibb
Starring: Sam Claflin, Paul Bettany, Asa Butterfield, Stephen Graham, Toby Jones

Written by Fiona Underhill

Based on the play by RC Sherriff, which will be familiar to many British school students, this film has just opened to a limited release in the US and I was lucky enough to find a showing of it. As someone who has taught WWI literature, I was keen to see what a new film adaptation of this beloved play would be like. When I heard about the cast; my interest was piqued further. Even though I am very  much the target audience for such a film, it still managed to exceed my expectations.

Sam Claflin stars as Captain Stanhope, who is dealing with the trauma of war by drinking through it. The ‘peace’ he has managed to find for himself in doing this is disrupted when an old school friend, the extremely green and naive Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) arrives and specifically requests to be assigned to Stanhope’s unit. Despite appearing to be about 15, Raleigh is an officer, so is bunked in extremely close quarters with the older, more experienced Osborne (Paul Bettany), Trotter (Stephen Graham) and Hibbert (Tom Sturridge). There, they are waited on by Mason (Toby Jones), who does what he can to turn the meagre rations into fine feasts for the officers. Almost the entire film takes place in this tiny officer’s bunk and the trench on the frontlines in 1918, giving the film a claustrophobic quality. The tedium combined with unbearable tension is skilfully conveyed by the production design and the acting, which is phenomenal.

Sam Claflin was in two of my favourite films of last year – ‘Their Finest’ (his second collaboration with director Lone Scherfig after the excellent ‘Riot Club’) and ‘My Cousin Rachel’ and he is quickly becoming an actor who can be relied upon to give interesting and layered performances. Asa Butterfield has been a child/teen actor around for some time now; in the underrated ‘Hugo’ (one of my favourite Scorcese films) and in the unfairly overlooked ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ (Burton’s 2016 film). He is perfectly cast here as Raleigh, looking like he’s just been plucked from his boarding school dorm and dropped into the hell of war; completely unprepared for what he’s about to face. Having only really seen Bettany in red make-up and a tight-fitting silver suit for the last few years (as Vision in the MCU), it is refreshing to see him getting to stretch his acting muscles again. He is sublime here, in what could be a boring, ‘good guy’ role. Osborne is the only thing keeping Stanhope from spiralling off the rails completely – his stillness centres and his steadiness grounds Stanhope, tethering him to the reality of leading his men. Stephen Graham is absolutely the best (along with Vicky McClure and Joe Gilgun) that British acting has to offer the world at the moment. Some highlights from the prolific actor are ‘Taboo’, ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and the ‘This is England’ film and TV series and he is insanely good in each one. Trotter is the only working class man in the officer’s bunk and his cheery demeanour is in stark contrast to Hibbert, who is suffering from shell-shock and on the verge of deserting.

Raleigh’s arrival on the frontlines is particularly worrying for Stanhope because his ‘sweetheart’ is Raleigh’s older sister Margaret. He is paranoid that she will get wind of what war has done to him and that he is a shell of his former self. It is slightly laughable that Claflin is supposed to be 3 years older than Butterfield (when the age-gap is in fact nearly 10 years). However, the physical contrast between the two works well to amplify the gulf between them; Raleigh is fresh-faced and Stanhope is broken. The film does an incredible job of portraying the everyday reality of war (admittedly mainly from the officers’ perspective). Their lives revolve around food, tea (even if it’s a bit oniony), cigarettes (or Osborne’s beloved pipe) and for Stanhope: whiskey. They spend their days waiting for their orders – when will they have to go on a raid, or will this finally be the day that the Germans attack? Despite his rank, Captain Stanhope has no control over the fate that will befall his men, he can only try to prepare them as best he can. As with any artwork about the First World War, futility is always going to be a main theme; something keenly felt by Hibbert. What is the point in doing anything when you are all going to die anyway and your death will have served no purpose? It is impossible not to experience anything to do with WWI and not come away feeling sick and angry about it. It goes without saying that the ending of ‘Journey’s End’ is devastating. It could end no other way.

I hope that as many people as possible in the US seek this film out on its limited release (I believe that is has pretty much left UK cinemas now). There is no doubt in mind that this film will be used widely in history and English lessons in the UK and they are fortunate to have such a good film as an educational tool. I was expecting to be interested in this movie, but not to be blown away on the level that I was. This is the film of the year so far for me and I urge you to find a way to watch it.

Fiona’s Rating: 9/10

12 Strong

Year: 2018
Directed by: Nicolai Fuglsig
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, William Fichtner, Rob Riggle

Written by Tom Sheffield

If you’ve read some of my reviews on here before, you’ll know I’m a sucker for films based on true events, such as ‘Deepwater Horizon‘, ‘The Founder‘, and ‘Jackie‘ to name just a few I’ve written about for JUMPCUT. So with ’12 Strong’ riding into cinemas recently I thought I’d add another under my belt!

Following the devastating 9/11 terror attacks, a highly trained team comprising of CIA paramilitary offices and US forces, ‘Operational Detachment Alpha 595’ (ODA 595) flew out to Afghanistan to begin a secret and highly dangerous mission to fight back against Taliban forces. Once there, the task force must work alongside General Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance to push the Taliban out of Mazar-e-Sharif for good.

Hemsworth takes the lead as Captain Mitch Nelson, who was just about to start a role working behind the desk in an office rather than on the front lines before the terror attacks. It goes without saying that Michael Shannon gives another strong performance, despite his character getting less screen time than probably deserved. Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, Thad Luckinbill, and the rest of the squad also deliver believable and fantastic performances, often resorting to humour and wise cracks to lighten tense and serious situations, however these don’t feels shoehorned in and are delivered like genuine banter amongst brothers in arms. William Fichtner only appears briefly in a handful of scenes as Colonel Mulholland, but he certainly makes an impression as he sports a shiny bald head (which I found very distracting!).

Fuglsig may not be a director you recognise the name of, but there’s a very high chance you’ve seen some of his previous work, which has mostly been commercials. One that might ring a bell is for Sony Bravia in which 250,000 colourful bouncing balls were let loose on the largest hill in San Francisco. It would seem producer Jerry Bruckheimer took a risk offering the director’s chair to Fuglsig, given his lack of experience on feature films, but all in all I think he did a reasonably good job on such a demanding film. The direction is good and it has a familiar feel to war films we’ve seen before, which is by no means a bad thing.

Lorne Balfe provides the accompanying score for the film and does an incredible job of keeping you in the moment. There are some truly heart racing scenes in amongst some slower, and quite frankly boring, moments but Balfe’s score fits in so perfectly to whatever is going on that it keeps you engaged. Another winner from Balfe!

’12 Strong’ has got a lot of heart and, from what I’ve read, doesn’t steer too far from the truth for dramatic effect, unlike other films based on true events, and it’s the solid cast at the forefront of this film that really make it what it is. It’s a real slow burner that never really has it’s BIG moment, but it does well to deliver edge-of-your-seat tension. The big, slow build up to the third act is definitely worth it as we witness the events that lead to the mission’s conclusion. I highly recommend seeking this out at the cinema if it sounds like your kind of film.

Tom’s Rating: 6.5/10

Darkest Hour

Year: 2018
Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Winston Churchill is as famous a British Prime Minister as you can get. Taking control of the country in a time of grave need and facing imminent destruction, he had the unenviable task of inspiring his country into believing the war was not lost. What followed is a story of bravery and heroism on the part of the entire UK, who rallied behind Churchill and his unrivalled skill with language. As a character, Churchill is as alluring as any other. The task, this time, falls to Gary Oldman. To say Oldman gives a great performance in ‘Darkest Hour’ is the understatement of the century.

After being reluctantly placed in charge of the UK, succeeding the increasingly ineffectual Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill was given a war to win, in as literal a sense as you can get. As a man without the support of his party, he is left with only his desire and his commitment to serving his country at all costs. Spanning Churchill’s tumultuous first 9 days in office (yes, 9 days), ‘Darkest Hour’ shows even a man brimming with confidence can be brought to his knees.

Before addressing the obvious in greater detail, ‘Darkest Hour’ is a great film. I’m surprised I was as invested as I was. To be political for just a minute, I am phenomenally disenfranchised with the idea of Great British Values and how great this country is considering the UK is on the verge of irreversible self-destruction. And yet, ‘Darkest Hour’ is a film built on that; built on rallying the country to believe in itself, and I couldn’t help but be swept up in the commotion.

Joe Wright is a visual director with hits and very big misses (‘Atonement’ and ‘Pan’, respectively). I’m happy to report he has another hit with ‘Darkest Hour’. Using flashy camera movements, whether slow zooms or tracking shots or crane shots around the Houses of Parliament, ‘Darkest Hour’ is very enjoyable to watch. One particular shot made me audibly say ‘wow’ in the cinema, where the camera tracks along a bombing run and the destroyed ground before seamlessly transitioning to a dead soldier’s face covered in dirt. It’s the kind of shot that leaves an impression and won’t leave my mind for a while. There are some more creative shots that feel somewhat unnecessary (more than a few scenes of Churchill alone in a room surrounded by a frame of total darkness to convey his isolation within his party were slightly too blunt), but the effect of the film as a whole isn’t lost. Churchill faced war within his party as much as he did with Adolf Hitler, something Wright managed to very successfully portray.

Now, here comes the point that everyone knows is coming, but it needs to be discussed – Gary Oldman is a complete revelation. Someone could make the wild claim that Joe Wright and company literally reanimated Winston Churchill’s corpse and I’d genuinely think about it for a second. It’s a complete transformation visually, physically, and aurally. Admittedly, Churchill is a meaty character to take on and it demands someone going all-in on the performance to deliver it truthfully, and Oldman does that and then some.

Churchill’s famous speeches are treated like action set-pieces no matter where they’re delivered. Two speeches delivered in the Houses of Parliament, one delivered to a small group of politicians, one delivered to his war cabinet, and one on the radio that is bathed in the red glow of betrayal and fear. Every speech is accompanied by a score that only accentuates every speech’s intentions. Beyond his speeches, Oldman delivers every line with the same energy and vigour as a speech, a personal favourite of which is his cry “you cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!”

Gary Oldman’s career is full of tremendous highs, and for my money, his Churchill may be the highest of the lot. It’s the performance of a lifetime from a true great, and he is deserving of every award he has already received and is sure to receive over the coming weeks.

‘Darkest Hour’ is a brilliant piece of rousing British cinema. For best results, watch it as a double bill with 2017’s ‘Dunkirk.’ ‘Darkest Hour’ works on so many levels from cinematography to screenplay to its performances (Kristin Scott Thomas is terrific as Churchill’s wife, Clementine), but a film like this lives and dies by its lead. Gary Oldman carries the film on his shoulders and marches it victoriously to its conclusion.

Rhys’ Rating: 8.5/10

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Dunkirk

Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Barry Keoghan

Written by Sarah Buddery

Films directed by renowned British director Christopher Nolan are always something of an event; few and far between but whenever does come along there is always incredible amounts of expectation. Nolan is one of those rare “classic” directors, one who has a love and appreciation for the craft and skill in making a film, and one who can easily stand amongst the all-time greats, despite his relatively small filmography.

The notion of Nolan directing a war film perhaps surprised a few people, and indeed I was one of those people questioning whether it would be Nolan directing a straight-up war film, or whether it would be a “Nolan-ified” war film. The short answer is it is neither of those things and it is wise not to go in expecting a “war” movie as you might imagine one. It isn’t short on action by any stretch, but it is much more of a thriller that just happens to be set during the events of Dunkirk.

It is fairest to describe ‘Dunkirk’ as a “ticking-clock thrilller” – quite literally in fact, as not only do the events seem to occur in real-time, but there is an ever present ticking sound incorporated into the score, serving as an ever present reminder of impending doom and tension.

This film was almost nothing like I was expecting, but was absolutely everything I wanted and so much more! ‘Dunkirk’ has the Nolan stamp all over it, with all the class and finesse that you would expect, but it is boldly and brilliantly different from anything he has done before. ‘Dunkirk’ is a breath-taking, heart-stopping masterclass in nail-biting tension that perfectly balances the action with genuine human emotion. It is a survival story at its core, and just as meticulous, precise and measured as you would expect from Nolan.

Shot on IMAX film, ‘Dunkirk’ is visually stunning to look at, and it is so refreshing to see an action thriller that is genuinely worthy of receiving awards. The cinematography is stunning and the mind-blowing attention to detail ensures that everything looks and feels as accurate as it possibly can. The incredible aerial acrobatics and dogfights were largely done for real, using real planes and with the actors genuinely placed within the cockpit of an aircraft; the result is something which is immersive and heart-stopping in places. So often you can be taken out of the moment because you know it was created on a computer or using a green-screen, and whilst you can be assured Tom Hardy and co were safe throughout, there’s some genuine heart-in-your-mouth moments that are heightened by knowing that they were done for real.

Frequent Nolan collaborator, Hans Zimmer is back with an incredibly emotive and brilliant score. It is so wonderfully woven into the soundscapes of war, incorporating the roars of planes and the tense ticking clock to absolute perfection. The  use of sound in ‘Dunkirk’ is undoubtedly awards worthy, and whilst it might be too early to call, I would be very surprised not to see it up there in the technical categories.

As is so often the case with Nolan films, the score and sound are sometimes a little overwhelming in places which made it a hard to hear the dialogue in places. Whilst it did an excellent job of conveying the chaos and noise of war, it did also make it a little difficult to connect with the characters at times. Whilst the tight run-time (by Nolan standards anyway!) did a great deal to keep it concise and measured, it did also leave a few untied loose ends which some may find frustrating. However, it is still dramatic at every turn, with unbelievable amounts of tension and an unrelenting energy that will leave you breathless.

It is perhaps the nature of the story that it wasn’t about connecting with the characters, more just the various situations occurring simultaneously which does make it difficult to pick a stand-out acting performance. Mark Rylance’s heroic every-man was the easiest to connect with however as he made a daring trip across the sea to save those stranded and surrounded by the enemy. Cillian Murphy’s deliberately un-named and shell-shocked soldier also does an excellent job of conveying the horrors of war and the effect it had on many. Despite it only being one man, the fact is he represents the mental anguish and damaged psyche of millions of people who have been through similar horrors, and it was a surprisingly powerful performance.

‘Dunkirk’ is an utterly stunning film which is as close to a perfect film as you can get. A fair warning if you’re hoping to see this in IMAX; the noise of the bombers and gunfire is absolutely deafening, so whilst it might lead to a loss of hearing, it’ll be more than worth it. Absolutely unmissable.

Sarah’s rating: 10 out of 10

War for the Planet of the Apes

Year: 2017
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Amiah Miller, Gabriel Chavarria

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

The rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy has had a strange existence. With ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, it’s safe to say that most people were surprised at just how good the film was, better than it had any right to be, and becoming one of the surprise hits of 2011. Then along came ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ in 2014, a true blockbuster in every sense of the word by winning over audiences and critics alike thanks to its stunning visuals, compelling story, and wonderful performances. ‘Dawn’ stands tall as, for my money, one of the finest science-fiction films of the century. And yet, with ‘War’ upon us, the series as a whole isn’t yet mentioned alongside greats of cinema like ‘Back To The Future’, ‘Toy Story’, or ‘Lord of the Rings’. With Caesar’s return to the silver screen, Planet of the Apes has a series capper that manages to exceed and subvert our expectations and cement the series’ place as an all-time great trilogy.

After the events of ‘Dawn,’ in which Koba (Toby Kebbell) led a revolt against Caesar (Serkis) and a devastating battle against human survivors in San Francisco, the Ape colony are in hiding in an undisclosed location. We join the film in the middle of the action as a small troop of soldiers close in on an Ape camp for a surprise attack. After the attack, Caesar discovers the humans are capturing and using apes as “donkeys” in war to help the human cause. After the colony suffers a great loss, Caesar takes it upon himself to get revenge on the human in charge of this attack, The Colonel (Harrelson).

Upon reflection, it’s important for the prospective audience to know that ‘War’ may be a surprise to some. Given the title, it wouldn’t be foolish to expect Ape-on-Human anarchy throughout as the titular war rages on, but ‘War’ is, in fact, much more introspective and personal than I expected. Forgoing battle in favour of a grand character study of what it means to be human and what’s at stake for both humans and apes is a bold move for a summer blockbuster. That’s not to say there aren’t scenes of anarchy and battle and war, it’s just not the focus of the film. Caesar is at war with his inner demons as much as he is at war with The Colonel to protect his colony.

The series so far has had stellar performances from its apes, none more so than from Andy Serkis, but ‘War’ takes these performances to the next level. One must wonder what more Serkis must do to gain recognition from the Academy because his work in these films is utterly unparalleled. Caesar faces several obstacles to overcome, questions of family and loyalty and morality, all of which are written on his face in typically meticulous fashion. There are so many shots of Caesar’s eyes and they dominate the screen as he wrestles with himself and what he needs to do next. Caesar commands the screen in the same way he commands his colony. One raise of a hand is enough to silence a hundred apes, and he has the same effect on the viewing audience. Caesar is such an incredible achievement in character creation, design, and development that every word, every gesture feels weighty and important. Serkis’ fellow apes, Konoval, Notary, Zahn, are all impressive in their own right, but Serkis is the master, and in ‘War’ we are seeing a master at the very height of his powers.

If any criticism could be aimed at ‘Dawn’ it would be its lack of comic relief. ‘Dawn’ is a very dark film addressing a very serious subject matter, and while ‘War’ is no different by arguably going even darker, this criticism is addressed with the film-stealing Bad Ape (Zahn). After crossing paths with him accidentally on Caesar and company’s travels to find The Colonel, Bad Ape reveals himself to be an escaped chimpanzee from a zoo who learned to speak only by listening and, unlike most apes on screen, is unable to use sign language. Bad Ape learned to live on his own and meeting an ape of a different style to what we’re used to is a great touch for the third entry in the series. The comedy Bad Ape brings, both verbal and physical, is wholly satisfying, the highlight of which is a visual joke before they all set off on a long, cold journey north which had the entire cinema laughing.

Addressing the obvious, ‘War’ is home to the finest performance capture work in cinema. On a purely visual level, the Apes are stunning. No pixel has been left unused as every Ape on screen looks photorealistic, the most impressive of which on this front is Maurice (Konoval), the hulking Orangutan. Many, many critics state that the true power of any performance is in the eyes, and here it’s no different. Most of the Apes are unable to speak and communicate through sign language, so the eyes are as important as ever and each character’s eyes, whether Caesar, Maurice, Rocket (Notary), or Bad Ape, portray so much about their feelings in any given moment.

Beyond the Apes, the effects in general are stunning and I frequently found myself spellbound by the action on screen. Seamlessly blending CGI with humans, whether a small, lost girl (Miller) they found is hiding behind Maurice, or an Ape hands a human a machine gun magazine, it’s an achievement in itself that it looks so perfect. In scenes of battle and in quiet, dialogue filled scenes, the film manages to convince us that what we’re watching is real. If you were to show someone from even 1997 this film, they’d likely be convinced that these were real apes.

‘War’ is as good a series ender as any other. It manages to conclude Caesar’s arc in a satisfying way while keeping the doors open to future instalments. Reeves’ achievements with this film and ‘Dawn’ should not be underestimated as he has taken the fine foundation of ‘Rise’ and elevated it to a level beyond which any of us could have possibly imagined. For me, ‘Dawn’ remains the series’ peak, but ‘War’ is a stellar achievement in film-making. Apes. Trilogy. Strong.

Rhys’ rating: 9.1 out of 10