I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended a press screening for the purpose of this review, thanks to 20th Century Fox and Allied Integrated Marketing. ❤
Caesar is angry, war is looming between radical soldiers and the Simian Flu is changing the face of mankind.
Enter War for the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Reeves, which is set to cap off this Apes trilogy. Reeves is no stranger to the series (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), so it helped knowing there’s consistency going into the third film.
However, when “war” is in the title of your film, and you watch trailers boasting intense battles, I wondered where all of that focus on war went once War for the Planet of the Apes ended.
War takes place years after Caesar (Andy Serkis) killed Koba and became the leader of the apes. The film wastes no time getting to gunfighting and spear-throwing after bringing the audience up to speed with lots of on-screen text. The audience is put into the boots of soldiers ready to raid an ape stronghold. It’s quiet, but not for long: a soldier spots an ape on a horse and fires their bowgun.
We quickly learn that Caesar means business, and he’ll do anything to protect his own kind. However, after Caesar showed mercy on soldiers that survived the attempted raid, our film’s antagonist, The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), said it ain’t enough and returns to the ape stronghold with a blood-thirsty mentality.
The film does an OK job, initially, of providing tension and plenty of destruction. This is the kind of film War should have been, and where it succeeds. However, we’re treated to a film that’s confused: Does it want to be an epic or a popcorn flick? Does it want to be serious as it introduces apes as slaves that get whipped for not obeying orders?
Too many times during War do we hear a Michael Giacchino score that sounds epic, but honestly, doesn’t resonate off the screen. Then, we get a bunch of jokes in a two- or three-minute span that takes you out of a serious scene and clashes with previous tones. Oh, and then the film tries to speak to your emotions by using cliche drama.
It’s all confusing and holds War for the Planet of the Apes back.
On the technical front, however, the mo-cap and animation in this film is among the best I’ve seen on-screen. Throughout the film, there are jaw-dropping moments when you witness the level of detail that went in Caesar and his group. There’s one moment when Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) pops his head out of the ground, and I had a hard time telling myself this is mo-cap. I see an Academy Award nomination in this film’s future.
Another positive that Reeves unfortunately strayed from during the second half was the performance of Amiah Miller as Nova. Serkis brought along a good performance, which is to be expected, but Miller surprised me with her ability to not say anything at all. She acted with her eyes. The innocence, fear and courage she exuded tied me into some of the most emotional moments of War between her and Maurice (Karin Konoval). Her performance did its best to give this film layers.
Outside of Serkis and Miller, there aren’t any redeeming factors in the other characters. Woody Harrelson is your generic villain whose dialogue is less than captivating. During a standoff with Ceasar, The Colonel explains how the Simian Flu has torn apart humankind through strictly expository speech. I was getting tired of hearing about it and wanted to see the moment he described with his son (I won’t describe it to hold back from spoilers <3). Writer Mark Bomback couldn’t find a consistent tone throughout much of the second and third acts, and this led to characters, like The Colonel, being driven into the ground. Bomback’s story also threw away the valid arguments made by the previous films for humans defending their existence. The human race became one-dimensional in this film.
As the conclusion to the Apes trilogy, this isn’t a complete failure, but War for the Planet of the Apes is simply an average film that failed to provide moments that could’ve put it over the top. As the final film in the trilogy, I anticipated a huge pay-off after a long, two-hour build-up. As the end credits rolled, I asked myself what resonated with me. The answer is: hardly anything at all.
‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ is rated PG-13, has a runtime of 2 hours and 22 minutes and releases on July 14, 2017 (North America)