War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

The Great Ape Escape!

Several years following the events from DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes suffer a devastating attack.  Against his own principals, Caesar along with a few of his most trusted apes set out on a vengeance mission, which leads to a greater purpose. Sometimes overly sentimental and stretched a bit too long, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES eventually finds its footing and delivers a strong conclusion for fans of the new trilogy.

It was 1968 when a planet of apes first came to the big screen.  It was truly a ground breaking piece of science fiction that not only dealt with bigger human issues in society but also was wildly entertaining.  The most recent trilogy shows what exactly happens to get to the point where we discover that apes have taken over the world.  The third film in the new series, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, ties in nicely to that original version, PLANET OF THE APES.  No, it doesn’t bring us up to that exact timeline with the Statue of Liberty and Charlton Heston screaming, “You blew it up!”  But the film gives understanding and enough explanation that the audience can easily fill in the pieces.  I apologize for spoiling for all those who haven’t seen the original nor have heard the iconic lines muttered. I think there is a statute of limitations that has expired on a film that came out fifty years ago.   In the same way that “I am your father” has no impact on newcomers to the Star Wars universe, the very idea of making this prequel trilogy is one huge spoiler to the 1968 film’s conclusion. But I digress.

Woody Harrelson in War for the Planet of the Apes

Through snowy, rocky terrain on horseback, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES has an almost western quality.  While interesting, the film moves a bit too slowly, picking up emotional pieces and hanging on them longer than necessary.  The cinematography is gorgeous and director Matt Reeves has a clear vision of the material, but the extreme closeups and slow pacing stretches the emotion to overly sentimental rather than allowing it to breath naturally.  The intended tension always feels loose in the elongated scenes, which could have easily tighten up and help fix that pesky two-hour and twenty-minute runtime. Breaking up the dire need for survival with a bit of tragic comic relief is a new ape born in zoo captivity, who believes his name is Bad Ape played by Steve Zahn. While this character works some of the time, the ending is what truly energizes the overall sadness and pain of the story. I almost heard THE GREAT ESCAPE theme song playing in my head as a bunch of enslaved apes perform an exciting and dangerous prison escape.

Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes

Nevertheless, the apes are magnificent and the performances, particularly by the phenomenal Andy Serkis, are incredible. As a mark in how far technology has come, the CGI and motion capture work from Andy Serkis as Caesar, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is the poster child of what can be achieved. The apes have heart and personality like any human character.  They are as real as they can possibly be. So much so that it can be hard to stomach at times because it feels as though we are watching live animal cruelty. We are drawn to them, we want them to succeed against our own kind.  Woody Harrelson as the Colonel leading the army of humans has actions that are horrifying, but his motivations have merit in a grand scope for his desire to save humanity. The complexity of these films to not stray too close in making a basic good guy vs. bad guy story is difficult and deserves credit for keeping within the grey areas of conflict.

While the film has a lot of problems involving length and forcing emotion, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is still al masterfully achievement with greater themes about humanity through the eyes and leadership of the apes. Paralleling our own desires to live and love, their story is the underdog story that we can understand.  Perhaps it’s because I feel conflict that they are fighting humans or that I simply don’t like animals being hurt, but while I respect them, there is a disconnect that always pulls me back in these Ape films. Perhaps it’s a compliment to how real the apes look that the visual image of their pain is difficult to view on screen. However, If you are a fan of the series, I have no doubt your fandom will continue with this compelling conclusion.


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