Movie Review: ‘War For the Planet of the Apes’ (2nd Opinion)


Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Steve Zahn

Plot: Caesar and his clan of apes have been fighting to protect their forest home from a remnant of the US military. Ultimately the apes decide to find a new home beyond the mountains, but the military are headed in the same direction.

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Review: I’ve always enjoyed the original 5-part series of Planet of the Apes, campiness and all. Diminishing budgets left the quality more than a little wanting but never stopped exploring new ideas. The fourth film, The Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, is especially interesting as they set up a near-future scenario where apes have become a race of servants by humans. Strangely enough I’ve been a bit cool on this new series in spite of the excellent production values. They’re certainly enjoyable but get tied down by plotting issues and clunky narratives.

War For the Planet of the Apes brings with it the same strengths and weaknesses as the previous two films, although some are further accentuated. Darth Gandalf has already provided us with a glowing review here, so this piece will be a bit more critical.

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The special effects in the films are among the very best, perfectly creating realistic looking apes that merge seamlessly with their environment. Whilst many film CGI characters are kept at an arms distance we get some incredibly rendered close-ups of the lead characters. On occasion in the previous two films you can see the cracks, especially when there are many creatures on screen at a time, but this outing looks downright amazing. Andy Serkis continues to be the greatest primate ever seen on film and it’s appalling he’s disqualified from some major rewards. 

There are also some interesting ideas explored in story, such as the ape’s friendship with a mute girl (Miller) they adopt on their journey. She’s the first of the human characters who have been rendered mute and, in some cases, primitive due to a mutation of the simian flu. Expanding on the sci-fi ideas planted in the first film is always interesting.

What let’s the film down is the titular ‘war’ that doesn’t ever seem to happen (not literally, anyway). Without getting to far into spoiler territory, the apes themselves are only tangentially involved in the final battle. This makes the poster featuring a stand-off between humans a massive ape army misleading. Instead the film focuses on the internal conflict of Caesar and his battle of wills with the Colonel (Harrelson), yet these don’t feel as though they got enough screen time. Much of Caesar’s motivation in the final act comes from his fear of becoming more like Koba – after having two dreams about him. The set up was enough to support the climax.

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Then there’s some niggling complaints, such as a couple of nods towards towards religious allegories that feel tacked on. Bad Ape (Zahn), a former zoo ape who has also developed the ability to speak and survived by himself, provides comic relief that is over-used and ends up feeling forced in an otherwise serious film. There’s no well developed villain either. Reeves seems to have gotten carried away in making the humans evil to make the apes more sympathetic.

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These issues aside, it is a solid production. The movie looks great and the visuals are extremely well directed. The infiltration of their forest home is a stand out for it’s use of darkness to build tension. The score is also fantastic, sometimes unorthodox but always sublimating the film well. The biggest issue we had was that the film leans more heavily on creating an allegory rather than structuring a strong narrative. If you enjoyed the previous films you will likely find this a solid conclusion to the story. If you’ve just joining us it may not prove particularly engaging.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN

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