War for the Planet of the Apes

Replay Reviews

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ may be the weakest of the rebooted Apes trilogy but like its predecessors it’s still far better than a movie about talking apes warring with humans for control of the Earth has any right to be. There’s much to admire about ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’, not least of which is the incredibly strong direction from Matt Reeves, but there are clear blemishes that shouldn’t be ignored. As blockbuster franchises march on often small pieces, the ones which made audience fall in with love with the series in the first place, get lost in the fray and Apes has been disappointingly unable to avoid this common pitfall.

The human element of the Apes franchise is the causality in this third instalment. The previous two movies did an excellent job of making the audience question which side to root for, apes or humanity, creating a wonderful layer of moral complexity as neither side were portrayed as wholly good or wholly bad. ‘War’ disposes of this in favour of a very rudimentary narrative in which the apes are the traditional heroes and the humans are the villains of the piece. It’s a real shame that the most interest aspect of the franchise is all but abandoned in favour of a very simplistic tale.   

There are literally only three or so named human characters, and aside from Woody Harrelson’s underwhelming Colonel none of them make an impact, which of course means the film rests sole on the primates to keep the audience engaged. This is a real issue because even Caesar is a bit of a bland character let alone his forgettable pals. Unsurprisingly the apes cannot carry the show alone and quickly you’ll be sick of their limited communications and long for a truly compelling character or even just one scene with some engaging dialogue.

Don’t get the wrong impression however, ‘War’ is still a strong blockbuster and the flaws are only so noteworthy because of how strong the previous two entries were and how breath taking parts of this third part are. On a technical level the film is a masterpiece, unrivalled in the blockbuster space, the opening especially is wonderfully tense and starts the picture of in the perfect way. The editing is inch perfect, the score always hits the right tones and visually the film is a pleasure to drink in, it’s a shame that the narrative cannot stack up to the strength of the filmmaking on display here. Director Matt Reeves and his team should take a bow because this level of polish is so rarely seen in the big budget space.

The effects are once again extraordinarily impressive, even more so here because the apes take front and centre without a strong human cast to balance them out. Andy Serkis does a fine job for the third time motion capturing the role of Caesar, plenty of credit should be given to him. Though the demands for an Oscar nomination are frankly undeserved both because of the performance itself not being quite of that calibre and the fact the Serkis’ performance has been massively enhanced by a team of animators who are shamefully overlooked (thanks in part of comments made by Serkis himself). Similarly plaudits should be given to the other actors who have motion captured apes as well as the animators who have brought them to life, it takes a team of people to bring these creations to the screen and all parties deserve credit.

‘War’ really drags its heels in its second act, the film is most definitely twenty or so minutes too long. Cutting down on meaningless plot points like the inclusion of a young human girl, played by Amiah Miller, who falls in with Caesar and his apes would have greatly helped the film’s pacing. The film opens strongly and closes equally so which just makes the bland middle all the more exhausting to slog through. Without wanting to repeat myself a strong human cast, which the middle portion could have focused on, would have really alleviate this issue and could have made ‘War’ more consistently enjoyable.

Despite its sizeable flaws ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ is still a mostly strong blockbuster, it is however tarnished by several disappointing narrative decisions and in a summer that has seen it fair share of good but not great tent pole releases it’s a shame for us to receive another. The rebooted ‘Planet of the Apes’ series has been far better than even the most optimistic of ape enthusiast could have possible hoped, it is however a shame that the franchise bows out on its weakest entry but this is still a trilogy that will be talked about and loved for years to come and ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ doesn’t diminish that fact. 

Score - 7.0