War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
Directed by Matt Reeves
Some stories are so ridiculous that they just need to be told, a trend that started in the early days of film and hasn't been seen as much recently. War for the Planet of the Apes keeps that tradition alive.
Following the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar and his band of apes are hiding in the forests, doing their best to survive and defend themselves. A garrison of troops led by a smart, merciless colonel is still hunting them down and, apparently like all humans, is intent on killing all of them. After Caesar's wife and son are killed, Caesar sends the majority of his band away and then leaves on a trip to kill the Colonel but is captured instead.
Initially the moral superior, War quickly blurs the lines and, as the movie continues, Caesar is repeatedly compared to Koba, the treacherous, traitorous ape from previous movies who couldn't let go of his hate for people. Caesar is fully aware of this hatred and the dilemma that puts him in. He's then thrust against the moral complexity of the Colonel, a man who's at once savior and villain. The Colonel is the kind of man whose logic we could almost agree with, especially in his attempts to save humanity, if only he weren't also fairly mad.
The moral dilemmas of these two great leaders are drawn together in a story that, quite simply, is quite simple. In fact, if the ape characters were replaced with any number of human characters, there would be almost nothing of note about the movie at all. It would instead be a fairly average action drama about moral dilemmas. Besides which, War as a whole is incredibly dramatized, with many scenes, such as a heartfelt monologue from the Colonel, feeling like something from a soap opera. On the one hand I understand the necessity of it, to tackle a subject like a band of apes fighting for the right to live against humanity, who've been decimated by a ravaging virus down to a minuscule remnant population and are therefore almost a fair fight. On the other hand, the resulting atmosphere of perpetual drama feels tiring, overstaying its welcome instead of creating the perpetual tension the filmmakers were likely going for. It actually creates uncomfortable silences, quite a feat for a blockbuster.
The best thing about the story are the characters and the little twist of fate in the end. I mean the doll. I don't mean the avalanche. The avalanche was a bad deus ex machina ending what was turning out to be a fun bit of unexpected subterfuge. The characters themselves are endlessly intriguing, each one displaying an interesting range of moral choices and showing us the same kind of issues that anyone can face, given the right [or wrong] circumstances. The main characters feel so complete and effortless that there's even room to include a character purely for comic relief.
Andy Serkis brings the true charm, bringing to life a character distinctly while not being on screen. He's proving to be the motion graphics actor, but every ape character is true to form: a new height of physical acting that's utterly impressive on a scale never seen before and a privilege to see.
The soundtrack, similar to the dramatization, is distracting, featuring cacophonous drum beats throughout the film along with the more-or-less-standard musical backing and the occasional emotive swell, though definitively not enough of them. It builds in the wrong moments and climaxes after the fact...
On the opposite end, War is definitively not short of fantastic visuals. The motion graphics and CGI are top-notch, making the world truly immersive. I can find absolutely no fault in anything visual here, and that's a true testament to the stellar amount of work put in here. The world is stunning.
In fact, the world is so stunning and beautifully rendered that it shines over everything else. It sparkles and shines and distracts from the mediocrity of the script. Okay that's a little harsh, the script does have some great touches like Caesar's inner turmoil as he struggles with his newfound similarities to Koba. But that doesn't change the fact that War for the Planet of the Apes doesn't have the same magic or spectacle of it's origins. Hollywood is awash with blockbusters featuring amazing graphics. War just took it a step further and featured characters build from amazing graphics. Don't misunderstand me, I fully appreciate the accomplishment of these motion graphic characters, the difference is that I'm not letting it blind me from the pedestrian story.
All of that doesn't even touch on the fact that this movie should've been called Escape to the Planet of the Apes. War hardly features any actual battle scenes and the ones that there are act as bookends to the story, where the meandering plot tries to shoehorn moral dilemma after moral dilemma.
Yet, somehow, despite all of it's faults, War for the Planet of the Apes actually manages to cobble together a movie that's, as I'm almost embarrassed to admit, a hugely fun ride. The over-dramatic elements work in stark contrast against the plainly outlandish concept. Yes, this rebooted series may not be the pop-culture, sci-fi, dystopian icon of it's origin but it's a fun movie with intriguing characters that I'd actually like to see again.
TL;DR: If I ignore the fact that this outlandish story even exists... the movie's actually a lot of fun to watch. There's tension here and there, even a little taste of action... but the true draw is the characters. They're fully enveloping and each one comprises a moral dilemma which is interesting to see play out. But really, apes vs. humans: fun.
- Acting – 16 / 20
- Story – 12 / 20
- Cinematography – 20 / 20
- Soundtrack – 4 / 10
- Entertainment Factor – 7 / 10
- Sci-Fi/Drama – 7 / 10
- Other – 5 / 10