WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES Review: 8 out of 10 (The Great Ape-scape)
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is directed by Matt Reeves and written by Mark Bomback and Reeves. A sequel to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014), it is the third installment in the Planet of the Apes reboot series. The film stars Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer and Terry Notary. Though this is one of the most complete film trilogies out of Hollywood in quite a while, this final chapter shows a few more weaknesses than the previous films. Having said that, it is still an easy recommendation and one of the better films of Summer 2017.
WAR takes place two years after the events of DAWN, and Caesar's clan has taken up in the woods and is at war with a human military faction known as Alpha-Omega. This conflict has become further complicated as various apes, including the gorilla Red (a former follower of Koba), have joined Alpha-Omega after being annoyed with Caesar's leadership, due to his mercy. Though there have been casualties on both sides, Caesar offers the humans peace if they will leave his clan alone. However, after some personal losses, Caesar vows to have his revenge on the humans and the Colonel. Caesar sends his clan away in an attempt to relocate further away from the humans--and along the way finds an orphaned human girl who is mysteriously mute as well as another "intelligent" ape living in the wild who calls himself "Bad Ape." As Caesar tracks down the Colonel and the military encampment, the film ramps up to an inevitable confrontation between humans and apes that is both powerful and poignant. These three films continue to represent a sort of larger metaphor for racial "othering" and in particular seems to be a strong representation of the plight of Native Americans in a darker part of US history. From their names, their culture, language, and the sort of reluctance to war--there are a lot of comparisons to be made here with the dark past of Native Americans in this country. One part war film, one part prison movie, and a mix of a revenge tale creates some fairly dark themes to this final chapter of a superior movie trilogy.
Serkis continues to impress with his motion capture performance of the ape leader. Well deserving of award recognition, Serkis has offered a growth to this character over three films that is an acting clinic. Harrelson here is channeling his own iteration of Brando's Colonel Kurtz with his shaved head and quiet madness. It is his insanity set up against Caesar's desire for peace that builds some effective tension. The film is epic in scale and in tone. It is the longest of the three films and certainly carries a larger scope of its themes, ideas, and even performances. Having said that, the film does seem to crumble a bit underneath the weight of so much angst. Steve Zahn's "Bad Ape" is added here as a sidekick of comic relief that has been previously absent in tone from the other films. Though one might argue that it works to mediate and lighten some of the darker themes, it also compromises the film's tone. Many of these scenes felt like they had been lifted from a movie remake of the 70s show LANCELOT LINK than something befitting this film series. The movie also has a few too many endings--not seeming to know where to cut off the tale. There are some Biblical allusions here that are also so "on the nose" with dialogue and cinematic work that it removes any subtlety that the previous films seemed to integrate.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is an epic movie that is nearly too big for it to be effective. Though it is the weakest of the trilogy, there is a lot here to recommend and fans of these films will enjoy experiencing the final chapter of this trilogy.