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