War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
Written by Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves
Directed by Matt Reeves
Following the events of the previous film, a military unit is now hunting Caesar’s community as they attempt to live their lives in peace in the redwood forests outside of San Francisco. The film opens with a horrific ambush on the jungle outpost, and Caesar attempts to be merciful in dealing with the captured soldiers. This backfires, and more tragedy strikes the apes. Finally, Caesar can take no more. He heads out with some trusted allies to find the Colonel behind these attacks and end the conflict once and for all. There are surprises along the way as he learns more about the Simian Flu and its effects on humans as well as gaining new allies. All this comes to a head when Caesar finds the outpost of the Colonel and learns his plans for apes and his fellow humans.
I am a pretty big fan of the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, especially because of the way it handles its core themes of revenge and mercy. This film continues that examination of the struggle between revenge and hatred towards those who wronged you, and the ability to show mercy and let the hate go. I don’t think War delves quite as deep as Dawn did with the conflict between Koba and Caesar. Here the relationship between Caesar and the Colonel is built on much broader strokes but still somewhat compelling. The film inserts some attempts to play on this theme with a human child that is orphaned as the result of Caesar’s action, and it could have done something compelling with that relationship, but as with the Colonel, this is very broad and never actually resolves satisfyingly.
The star of this film is Andy Serkis and the motion capture performances. The level of quality shown in War, particularly in the faces of the actors is magnificent. I was totally immersed in the emotion and personality of the apes and forgot there was an actor behind all of the complex computer effects. The entire Apes reboot series has set the bar for performance capture in my opinion and has become as revolutionary as the original series was for its makeup effects. It puts to shame any big budget films that use computer generated effects and don’t put this amount of detail and love into the outcome.
The soundtrack is also a big highlight of the movie. Composed by Michael Giacchino (Lost, The Incredibles, Star Trek) he brings in sounds familiar to fans of the original series of films. Xylophones and drums are used to create the sense of the off kilter, the same way the 1960s/70s films employed their music. We do have some of the expected large symphonic action tracks, but I personally enjoyed the retro-like music used in the early parts of the movie.
There are some significant problems in War though. The biggest problem is the script. Overall, they have the building blocks for an interesting story and even incorporate an explanation for the state of humanity in the original films. But there is so much plot convenience, and illogical story beats that it actually pulled me out of the movie. A tunnel beneath the human encampment is a big part of the story, and nothing about it makes sense. It’s implied the soldiers above have no idea it’s there, but the apes are able to dig up through the ceiling of maybe two inches of dirt? There is a flooding issue that comes up that felt entirely there to create conflict for the escape. Conflict in movies like these always hits harder when it originates from the actions of characters. Caesar does one thing which in turn creates a problem for him. Interesting. Caesar is in a place, and then a random event happens. Not very interesting. The conflict here comes a lot out of simple coincidence or circumstance, and that is simply not engaging.
The young girl who becomes a part of the ape caravan is also written very inconsistently. There is a moment in her introduction where she should be mourning. Instead, she doesn’t seem phased by what is happening. Later, the film gives an explanation via the Simian Flu that works. However, a subsequent death has her in tears and reacting hyper-emotional. This scene also happens to her and a character she doesn’t really have a relationship with so it’s, even more, mind boggling. Her inclusion in the film and how it ties into the originals is a fun easter egg moment, but there is little substance to her presence in the movie overall.
War for the Planet of the Apes serves as the apparent end of Matt Reeves’ tenure on the franchise. He is moving on to The Batman. More Apes movies are coming down the pipeline which is sort of expected with the Cinematic Universe craze at the moment. This trilogy has been a huge step up from the last few incarnations of the Apes, and it has a lot of potential. It’s just a shame that the plotting slips so badly when compared to Dawn.