How many movie trilogies get better as they go along? Three Colours, the Before trilogy, Toy Story, Bourne... It's a rarified list, and now joining them is the terrific, rebooted Planet of the Apes series. From relatively humble beginnings with Rise back in 2011, the series has grown in stature with 2014's Dawn and this year's tremendous climax War, one that rounds off the journey of super-intelligent ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) in fine style. Blending truly extraordinary motion capture CGI with potent philosophical themes about the nature of humanity, revenge and redemption, it's a popcorn blockbuster with brains and intelligence. This time round, Caesar must confront his own dark impulses when setting out on a path of vengeance to confront the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), the very future of apes and humans hanging in the balance.
Another consistently strong aspect of these movies has been the scores, inaugurated by Patrick Doyle's dynamic, exciting Rise and then continued with two offerings by Michael Giacchino. His first, Dawn, was a challenging if effective listen, one that placed increased emphasis on instrumental texture and tone in the manner of Jerry Goldsmith's groundbreaking score for the original 1968 movie. It's a delight to report that War not only builds on the sonic palette of Dawn but adds even more delicious, juicy thematic material and emotional moments, making for arguably the best soundtrack in the rebooted series so far.
That said, the score begins on an uncompromising note with the lengthy opener 'Apes' Past is Prologue', building a vague sense of ominous threat through snaky strings, shrill woodwinds, choir and an ominous five note percussion motif. It sounds appropriately animalistic and is immediately engrossing, showcasing a new level of maturity in Giacchino's writing. The eerie, uncomfortable tone continues with the pounding, escalating 'Assault of the Earth', another piece placing texture above melody and theme - at least until the end when the score's first official one, a lovely four note piece for piano, rears its head. A redemptive piece for Caesar and his inner torment, this sensitive idea calls to mind Giacchino's emotional material for Lost. Later in the movie as Caesar's journey interweaves with that of mute young girl Nova, so too does the music circle around both characters, binding their fates together as the future of the planet hangs in the balance. The theme re-appears at the start of 'Exodus Wounds' and makes memorable appearances in 'The Posse Polonaise', the exquisitely haunting 'Apes Together Strong' (one of Giacchino's best cues to date) and 'The Hating Game', gaining in stature as it builds from tentative innocence into full-blooded musical compassion.
However, that's not the only idea that Giacchino brings to the table. The aforementioned 'Exodus Wounds' re-introduces the earlier Dawn theme for Caesar and his ape allies midway through; a relatively more ephemeral piece for noble horns and strings, it takes longer to establish itself during the score. More attention grabbing is the visceral 'journey' theme that arrives at the track's end, an Ennio Morricone-esque thing of wonder for grunting choir, powerful horns, snares and martial strings, Giacchino clearly cueing off the movie's Western stylings and lending it ever-more distinct layers of personality through his music.
This piece makes its presence known throughout the first half of the score as Caesar journeys towards his fateful meeting with the Colonel, making thrilling appearances in 'Posse Polonaise'; the hugely exciting 'Bad Ape Bagatelle' where it's translated into an ostinato action context for driving strings and brass; 'Don't Luca Now'; and on militaristic snare drums in 'End Credits'. As the musical narrative proceeds however, it's the aforementioned redemption and Caesar themes that come to the forefront as events reach their emotional peak.
'Koba Dependent' is one the darkest moments, skittery percussive effects and growling strings hinting at the malevolent influence of the previous film's baddie, whose influence may be lurking within Caesar. The latter's theme returns on charged, heroic strings and brass in 'The Ecstasy of the Bold' - as if Giacchino's typically punny track titles didn't reinforce the Morricone connection enough, the music really does call to mind the maestro's soaring heroism at its best. The multifaceted percussion and rumbling Goldsmithian piano effects are back in 'A Tide in the Affairs of Apes', steadily building the nobility of Caesar's theme on horns in counterpoint whilst harmonica and choir draw on the Morricone influence.
'Planet of the Escapes' is a pleasing contrast, a surprisingly whimsical and scampering piece for squeaky woodwinds and jumpy strings in-keeping with the comic relief character of Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). It takes a special composer to wrangle such a radical about-shift in tone but Giacchino is clearly skilled enough to do so. It's then back to dark, toiling menace in 'A Man Named Suicide', a masterclass in anguished suspense that cleverly interweaves the redemption theme around the score's introductory percussive motif to depict the culmination of the battle between Caesar and the Colonel.
After this, the score hits new heights of emotion impressive even by Giacchino's standards. The choral 'More Red Than Alive', the stirring 'Migration' and the deeply moving, cathartic 'Paradise Found' do an exceptional job of interlinking both the redemption and Caesar themes on high end strings and warm brass in the manner of John Barry, bringing tears to the eyes as Caesar's journey is rounded off. Giacchino has always been strong at writing emotional music but he takes it to the next level here. The aforementioned 'End Credits' then stitches together the score's primary ideas, bringing everything to a satisfying close.
It's astonishing and more than exhilarating to see the status that Michael Giacchino now commands in Hollywood. In an era where many decry the absence of memorable film music, he is a bastion of robust thematic integrity and powerful melody and orchestration, able to honour the legacy of the composers who've influenced him whilst merging said influences with his own voice.
It isn't for nothing that he's been entrusted with several massive properties like the Apes movies, Star Trek and Jurassic World. Giacchino's passion for the music that shaped him has now transcended pastiche; indeed, he now boasts the kind of distinct musical voice, versatility and orchestral command that earmarks him as the new John Williams of our age. War for the Planet of the Apes is another tremendous score on that journey, intelligently scored, gritty and emotional in the manner of the old masters. Highly recommended. War for the Planet of the Apes the film score soundtrack album is available from these links at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.