War for the Planet of the Apes

RISE was an unexpectedly good film that, despite being a slow burn, created a strong platform for the remaining sequels. DAWN was a fantastic follow up that added new layers of depth that, whilst suffering from the somewhat generic Hollywood third act, outdid its predecessor in almost every way. WAR is an somewhat emotional conclusion that, whilst enjoyable, suffers from a few inexcusable faults.

Unlike the previous films in this trilogy prequel series WAR is tonally different as it is finally told from the perspective of Caesar and his ape followers. Whilst he was prominent throughout the other films it was the humans he interacted with and their stories that the films focused on, in WAR the humans are pulled back to the antagonist position leaving the film in the capable hands of Andy Serkis and his mo-capped brethren. It also feels a lot more personal than the other films did, focusing more on the internal thoughts and feelings of our Ape friend rather than the world-wide ramifications of the first film.

This goes a long way to explain why the film is called “War for…” and not “War of…” as the struggle in this film is not a worldwide battle between mankind and ape, but an internal struggle as Caesar fights against the consequences of past choices and the inevitable future that those decisions are now leading to. This gives the film time to explore some of the more serious themes, giving the ideas of fear and revenge space to stew inside the audience as we once again find ourselves rooting for the extinction of our own race.

The themes are harrowing, the performances are brilliant (Bad Ape in particular), and the visuals are spectacular – there is a scene with Maurice the Orangutan that still has me questioning whether it was mo-cap or whether they had trained an ape to speak ASL – but the film is in no way perfect.

A recent movie that I feel I should compare it to is Logan. Both Logan and WAR are very good films, yet there is something important missing from both of them, something that I should be able to pinpoint but am unable. Whilst I was heavily invested in what was going on I left the theatre with more of an indifference to what I had seen than I would have thought going in. Discussions about the movie after always involved the truly stunning visuals of the apes and how far the CG industry has come in the last decade, but nothing else. It’s as if I have just eaten a plain digestive biscuit, I enjoyed it at the time but now that it is finished I have forgotten all about it. I know I am supposed to feel emotional about what occurs, especially as this is seen as a conclusion to Caesar’s story, yet I was not.

Another point that does not help this indifference is the somewhat deus ex machina ending that, whilst being the culmination of the entire film and posing a question that could hint at the larger scale of the plague, was actually rather ridiculous in hindsight. What occurs literally comes out of nowhere and, whilst making sense in the setting, seems to tie up all of the characters problems in a single instance. It wipes the slate clean for the some of the harder questions that the characters had been fretting over for the majority of the runtime, giving us an ending without having to effect their morals. The fact that throughout Caesar seems to suffer from a sort of ape PTSD shows that the writers were happy to have a character haunted by his previous actions, so why did the finale choose to leave everything up to the hands of fate rather than that of the apes?

With a fourth ‘apes’ film already in the pipeline WAR is not the last time we are going to see Andy Serkis don his mo-cap suit, so hopefully the next film with fill in the void left by an otherwise enjoyable film.

6/10

Watch Again? – As a set, Yes. As a standalone, probably not.

Buy on DVD/Blu Ray? – No

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