War for the Planet of the Apes

war_for_the_planet_of_the_apes_ver3STARS3War for the Planet of the Apes is Part 3 in the rebooted film series that commenced in 2011. The franchise has been operating as a sequence of prequels leading up to the events of the 1968 classic. Now with the release of this picture, people have been referring to the collection as a trilogy. Whether more installments will follow still remains to be seen.  However if this picture makes enough money, you can best believe that more films will follow.

War is the story of Caesar (played in motion-capture by Andy Serkis), the leader of a tribe of genetically enhanced apes.  His army of simian warriors is at odds with Alpha-Omega, a terrorist faction of humans.  Caesar preaches a peaceful coexistence with the homo sapiens. However, the people are led by an aggressive Colonel (Woody Harrelson).  Apparently these barbaric individuals, can’t be reasoned with.  They’re just so warlike.  Not wanting to suffer any more casualties, Caesar plans to relocate his clan to the desert far away from Muir woods.  The night before they’re supposed to leave, Caesar’s home is invaded by the Colonel and his family is brutally attacked.  Now Caesar has a score to settle. He’s out for revenge.  This goes against everything his character has ever stood for, but hey no conflict no movie right?  Now we’re ready for a showdown.

The apes are anthropomorphic miracles of technology that act with more humanity than people. Ah yes, indeed that is the intention. If you couldn’t tell from the plot description above, War is told from the apes’ perspective. The entire trilogy (thus far anyway) has been developing a personal arc that traces the life of Caesar from a tortured experiment into a commanding leader. You will identify with the apes more than the humans. In this story, apes are better than people. You’ll be rooting for the demise of the human race if this screenplay has anything to say about it. That’s an interesting take, I suppose, but there’s more to creating a compelling narrative than merely affecting a unique point of view.

Actor and performance-capture innovator Andy Serkis is at the center of War for the Planet of the Apes. It’s hard not to notice him as (1) he’s got the lion’s share of all the dialogue and (2) the camera lingers on his expressive CGI face for seemingly minutes on end. He’s a fascinating creature to be sure. Caesar rounds up a loyal band of followers. These include his second in command, an orangutan adviser named Maurice (Karin Konoval), a fellow chimpanzee named Rocket (Terry Notary), and a sensitive gorilla named Luca (Michael Adamthwaite). They are a serious lot. The whole production would be a serious downer if not for one individual. Steve Zahn voices a zoo escapee known as “Bad Ape” in a bit of comic relief.  The misfit is kind of at lighthearted odds with the rest of the cast.  Yet he’s the only mitigation from all the dreariness.  As such, he’s a welcome reprieve from the bleak narrative.

On the non-simian side, there’s the evil Colonel played with cartoonish excess by Woody Harrelson. He wants to eradicate the world of not only all apes but also virus-infected people who’ve lost the power of speech. It’s easy to side with animals when this is the example of a human with which we are presented. His bald, deranged character is clearly inspired by  Colonel Kurtz, Marlon Brando’s role in Apocalypse Now.  As a matter of fact, some graffiti on the wall actually says “Ape-ocalypse Now” lest the filmmakers’ not-so-subtle tribute wasn’t obvious.   The whole homage might seem rather clever had it not been for Kong: Skull Island liberally referencing the very same classic a mere 4 months ago.  It’s still pretty fresh in my mind.  News flash: there are other memorable films about war that weren’t made by Francis Ford Coppola in 1979.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a remarkable spectacle.  At times it actually feels like a silent movie.  There are very few speaking parts.  Facial expressions are more important than actual words.  The camera fixates on the countenance of Caesar and we are invited to be moved by the way he emotes.  The script gets by on minimal dialogue.  The apes rescue a human orphan girl named Nova (Amiah Miller) who doesn’t talk.  She was rendered mute by the Simian Flu.  Most of the apes, in turn, communicate via sign language.  The technology has grown by leaps and bounds since the series began in 2011.  Director Matt Reeves and cinematographer Michael Seresin inspire awe with every shot.  This is a gorgeous achievement and the reason I’m giving this production a pass.  The CGI & MoCap apes are a marvel to behold.  It’s hard not to be wowed by the way War looks.  There is a trade-off for all of this visual wonder though.  The atmosphere is lugubrious.  The pacing is sluggish.  It’s almost 2 1/2 hours.  Even though the chronicle builds to a climactic finale, action does not comprise the bulk of the drama.  It’s yet another dismal morality tale that is a punishing watch.  It relies on the oldest of clichés. I’ll summarize: War is hell, but so are you, the human race, that is.  Forgive me if I don’t stand up and cheer.

07-13-17

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19 Responses to “War for the Planet of the Apes”

  1. I am not sure I quite agree with you since I consider this movie a near-masterpiece, but excellently written as always Mark. Here’s my review if you would like to hear my thoughts :- https://demandedcriticalreviews.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/war-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-review/

  2. smilingldsgirl Says:

    It’s interesting. The humans being the antagonists in the story didn’t really bother me. I see what you are saying but I was moved by the film.

    It seemed kind of like a Moses Exodus type story to me with Caesar searching for the promised land.

    I guess I view this entire series as more of a fantasy so humans being so awful didn’t bother me. I totally see why this wouldn’t be for everyone. My friend Conrado hated it and I get it. I think it is the least rewatchable of the 3 but still found it a bold and moving end to the story

    • Humans are usually the antagonists in most stories so obviously that wasn’t a problem. However, a narrative which encourages the elimination of the human race was definitely not something I found uplifting.

      Yeah, I can appreciate that it’s a fantasy so I didn’t hate it. I mean this LOOKED the best of the three films and I was captivated by the visuals to keep me interested enough.

  3. Nice review. I liked but didn’t love the movie. The special effects are absolutely brilliant, no doubt about it. But I found the entire story to be too preachy and heavy-handed, and it felt too much like an “Apocalypse Now” wannabe.

    • Agreed. It’s weak story and I didn’t care for Woody Harrelson’s character either. The allusions to Apocalypse Now felt like a cheap reference to a better film.

  4. Yawn. Of course, it looked amazing. I expected that. But this was called “war of the planet of the apes”. It hardly had any war. Such a disappointment. 3 stars

    • Yeah despite the positive critical acclaim, this underperformed at the box office. It clearly didn’t captivate audiences like the other 2 in this reboot series.

  5. I think you have to be in the right frame of mind for this movie. I really respect the director for making this film as good as it was, with a) little dialogue and b) few human characters, if any, we could root for.

  6. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by this one. 🙂

    • I remember I was cautiously optimistic when I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I didn’t know what to expect. When it turned out to be good, I was pleasantly surprised. The 2nd was even better so I foolishly expected this to be the best of the three.

  7. Sounds like a mixed bag, will check out a movie more worthy of my time.

  8. I enjoyed the film more than I expected. Yes, it is sentimental and moralising, but I thought it had something intelligent to say about personality being warped by the desire for revenge (it’s not only humans who behave badly). I disagree with you about Harrelson’s performance; I thought he showed the Colonel’s humanity – albeit flawed and fractured – behind the (literally) painted mask. Clankingly obvious homage to Coppola’s film, but also nods to quest Westerns like The Revenant, and POW escape capers.
    PS: better than Dunkirk, I’d say.

    • It’ll be interesting to see how this film is regarded during awards season. Special effects, sure, but anything else? We’ll see. Dunkirk, on the other hand — I think will receive more recognition.

  9. I doubt if it will make any awards lists; then again, I don’t always agree with the judges’ selections. E.g. I’ll always regard La La Land as over-hyped, over-praised and over-rated.

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