War for the Planet of the Apes isn’t nearly as intelligent, interesting or exciting as its prequels

Published: July 19, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes serves as the third and final instalment in the rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy, which like most rebooted blockbusters of the present has looked to offer a bleaker and more serious version of its old, campy predecessor.

Set a few years after the events of the last film, War for the Planet of the Apes follows the ape leader Caesar (motion-captured by Andy Serkis) and his primate community hidden in a dense forest, wanting only to be left alone in peace. However, a group of humans led by a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson) are still raging against the repercussions of the deadly virus and have devised their own plan to survive and establish dominance over the apes. This forces Caesar and his apes into a deadly conflict with the megalomaniacal colonel and his army of men that ultimately turns into more of an ideological battle for the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.

First things first, War for the Planet of the Apes is a bit of a misleading title because this movie is less about the war between the humans and the apes. The film is in facet more about the inner war faced by Caesar, the super-intelligent ape leader, who is pushed to the edge by the colonel. It’s an edge that makes him reconsider the events of the previous film, his feelings towards mankind and whether or not the survival of his kind is viable, even in a world with such few humans.

But while the film sets up some interesting ideological questions, its execution and follow through is shockingly dissatisfying. This film brings this otherwise outstanding series to a disappointing finish.

On one hand, it’s virtually impossible to not be completely astonished by the technical prowess of this film. The bleak visual look captured by Michael Seresin’s lens is stunning to behold, and the visual effects and the motion capture work by Serkis as Caesar is so incredible that it actually feels like a complete performance. Moreover, the orchestral soars of Michael Giacchino’s immaculate and original score always infuse the film with a feeling of grandiose – sometimes even pathos.

But all that can’t help the fact that War for the Planet of the Apes feels staggeringly empty, tedious and very cold (pun intended). One very obvious flaw that comes to mind is the lack of verbal wit that came from the interactions between the human characters and the apes in the prequels. For me, this series was never about the humans but their presence, even in a supporting capacity helped made the apes more complex characters.

In this film, director Matt Reeves almost completely drops the human point of view for an exclusively ape one, which actually leaves most of the film’s dialogue restricted to sign language between the apes. And while this is a bold decision for a summer blockbuster, it is one that sadly does not work.

The human characters that this film does have, most importantly the colonel, are given shockingly little to do. Harrelson quickly unravels as a lame redo of Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz from  Apocalypse Now, who is all about shaving his head and giving long, threatening monologues but doesn’t have much in the way of decent characterisation.

In fact, much of this film is cluttered with echoes of Apocalypse Now. But these echoes and throwbacks are not allegorical. Rather, they are just there for the sake of being there. It isn’t much of a war film either, despite all the war tropes it utilises, and though the action looks good, the film still manages to bore you and ends up as an immense disappointment.

You also can’t help but feel that the film is a product of bad storytelling. It’s as if screenwriter Mark Bomback and director Reeves are searching for something that just isn’t there and they’ve come up with a film that isn’t nearly as intelligent, interesting or exciting as the last two, one whose ponderous pacing often makes it a chore to sit through.

There are long scenes in which Caesar discusses his inner conflicts with his band of trusted ape-compatriots. Yet these inner conflicts seemingly do not have much of an effect on the story or how the plot moves forward and are simply, for the lack of a better word, not that compelling.

War for the Planet of the Apes is full of astonishing craft wasted on an annoyingly simplistic story. Its sucks you in with a great opening but only grows more and more plodding as it progresses. It does not have many answers to the questions it raises and ultimately forgets even those in a slap-dash final act. I spent most of the time appreciating it rather than actually enjoying it, which is never a good sign.

All photos: IMDb

Khalid Rafi

Khalid Rafi

The author is an aspiring writer and a passionate lover and supporter of Pakistan Cricket. He blops at The Blazing Reel. (www.theblazingreel.wordpress.com) and tweets as @TheKhalidRafi

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://twitter.com/ClearHeatVision ClearHeatVision

    Disagree with this article completely.Recommend

  • Amin Hussain

    You needed to listen to what the Colonel was saying! His words were not the ramblings of a deranged man but a very cold, calculated and accurate reading of the situation. That conflict between man and ape was inevitable… and as things seemed to be progressing would most likely end up with ape domination over humans. Hence, Caeser’s promises of a truce were worth little as in the big scheme of things, human domination would recede. The one thing humans have to establish supremacy is intelligence, if other beings gain this then humans are in a lot of trouble.

    In his monologue, he is explaining to Caeser the skill required to be a good leader – logical thought about the greater game, not emotional decisions that may jeopardise the overall aim. It’s a great transfer of thought from one leader to another.

    I thought it was a brilliant movie with some moments of genuine tension.

    The strength of the whole thing lay in the way they built a situation in which conflict was essential for the survival of each side. There was no bad guy being bad for the fun of it. Each side was doing what it deemed necessary for the survival of its species!

    O and it sets up very nicely how the loss of human dominance could feasibly happen. I was, frankly, surprised at the third film in a trilogy being so good!Recommend

  • Aalia Suleman

    Sorry Khalid, but totally, entirely, absolutely disagree with your view. You either have not watched the movie or you were too busy with your popcorn. This third installment scored a stellar 95 points on the Tomatometer on Rotten Tomatoes, which is THE measurement of quality of films….I wonder what you’d have to say about ‘Get Out’? Which scored an even higher 99…..!Recommend

  • Shahnaz Qaisar

    I disagree with the author’s opinion aswell but I detest your notion that he has to like the movie simply because all the other critics liked it and because it scored high on some website. Atleast he has the guts to speak his mind instead of conform with the crowd and he does well to support his side.

    But honestly, it’s about time we stopped using random websites like RT, Metacritic and IMDb as criterions for how good or bad a movie is. They should be enough to tell you whether to see it or not but that is all they should be used for.Recommend

  • Aalia Suleman

    Let’s not ‘detest’ other people for their opinion. I said I ‘disagreed’ with his view; I did not ‘detest’ it. I just wondered why he would think like that. So far, I’ve agreed with all of RT’s rating as that has been my honest opinion about a movie too…e.g. Nightcrawler, Zootopia, GetOut, The Martian…..but that’s my opinion. Let’s learn to agree to disagree without being disagreeable!Recommend

  • Little Odessa

    You say you only “disagree” with his opinion yet you’re also saying that you question why he would think like that…as if he has made some sort of a mistake by not liking this movie and not looking at its 95% rating before reviewing it…that strikes me as a little contradictory.

    And believe it or not, but there are other people…myself included, who didn’t like this movie and who don’t view Rotten Tomatoes as cinematic scripture.Recommend

  • Billy Lindberg

    I agree with pretty much everything Khalid Rafi said. I was REALLLLY looking forward to this movie. I really liked Rise and I LOVED Dawn. So I assumed that War would be AWESOME. Now let me say this, it was VERY WELL MADE and had great acting and motion capture work and so on. There were a lot of talented hands involved in this movie…. BUT what made me VERY disappointed was that is was very slow and did not deliver what was implied in the TITLE. When you hear the title, I’m sure anyone would agree that before they actually watch the movie, they would assume that it involved an all out WAR between apes and humans…. THAT is what I expected. I do appreciate storyline and drama. But the ratio of drama to action was way off… for a movie with the title WAR for the Planet of the Apes… Now if the movie was called CONFLICT of the Planet of the Apes, then I would not have gone into the movie expecting a huge WAR. So since the movie did not deliver what it said and does a complete bait and switch, I was let down by the movie. I will buy it on 4K to complete my trilogy set, but DAWN was WAAAAY better. Heck, DAWN had more “war” in it than WAR did. Thanks for getting me all excited thinking I was gonna see a WAR on the level of Game of Throne’s Battle of the Bastards… The movie was over 2 hours and maybe had fifteen minutes of action… and almost none of that action was depicting a WAR BETWEEN APES AND HUMANS…. And that is not my opinion… It’s a fact. Now, once I get over the disappointment and just run with the new plot I am given, I do admit that it is a very well made movie. It is basically a emotional drama about fighting your inner demons and seeing if you will come up on top or be consumed by them… So maybe call the movie INNER WAR of the Planet of the Apes… lol (No that’s a joke, so Back to what I said earlier – CONFLICT of the Planet of the Apes would have been a perfect title) Bottom line, I was not expecting a slow paced Western/Concentration Camp/Revenge tale with very little actual ape/human WARFARE…Recommend

  • D淡定D

    I agree with this article immensely. This movie is powerless. It drags on and on. There never was an engaging moment. This is no match for the first two. Gosh! I hate this silly movie! Critics are stupid. So are those who are dumb enough to believe in websites like Rotten Tomatoes.Recommend