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Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes
Considerable time has passed since the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but Caesar's (Andy Serkis) community is still dealing with the fallout of Koba's actions. The humans, led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), believe that the apes are a threat and are implementing tactical warfare in an attempt to eliminate the apes for good. Caesar still wants peace and believes that humanity is generally good, but the acts of war are making it increasingly difficult for Caesar to maintain his view on humanity. When The Colonel executes an assassonation attempt, Caesar suffers a great loss and begins his quest for revenge.
Caesar now must travel, with a group of his closest companions, on a journey to locate (and kill) The Colonel. Along the way, Caesar embarks on an inner journey as his companions, past experiences, and new experiences all challenge his views on humanity and challenge his current intention of killing The Colonel.
Andy Serkis (+6pts)
Character Development (-3pts)
Bad Ape (+3pts)
The War (-5pts)
Woody Harrelson (+4pts)
Human Devolution (-2pts)
Pro: Andy Serkis (+6pts)
Andy Serkis has done it once again. This guy, and his capability as a motion capture performer, are the biggest draws to these films. I will get into my problems with the writing of this film, but I had my fair share of issues. Yet Andy Serkis adds such depth an complexity, to this role, that I was still captivated whenever Caesar was on screen (which was almost the entire movie). I am truely captivated by the nature of which Andy Serkis is able to transform into any role he takes on (motion capture or not). I believe this guy is one of the best and most underrated actors working today.
Con: Character Development (-3pts)
My first major issue, with the writing of this film, was the weak character developmen. Both Caesar and The Colonel felt like they missed great potential. I will give the writers credit, they nailed the setup (or premise) of each character and where they are at towards the beginning of this film.
Unfortunately, after The Colonel's assassinayion attempt, Caesar felt like a fairly one-note character. I get the emotional journey he was supposed to be going on but I thought that the writers failed to capture the weight of that inner journey. Instead, Caesar was focused on revenge right up until the end. Andy Serkis' performance was the only that gave the impression that there was an inner journey happening, but (as good as it was) his performance was not enough to carry the weight alone. The writing needed to support him.
The Colonel has very week character development as well. His intentions are made very clear in the beginning of the film, but those intentions are never challenged which resulted in a one-note character.
Pro: Bad Ape (+3pts)
This ape, played by Steve Zahn, was one of the highlights of this film. On their journey, Caesar and his group run into an ape, named Bad Ape, who is fluent in English (like Caesar). We get a brief, summarized backstory for this character, which is a backstory that I believe audiences will sympathize for. Then, once the audience cares about this character, he becomes the strong comic relief for the rest of the film. His reactions to Caesar's plan (and the chaos that ensues as a result) is so much fun to watch. This character was a great addition to the current Planet of the Apes franchise. I only hope that, if (or when) they do more sequels to this film, they will include Bad Ape.
Con: The War (-5pts)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes gave us the evolution of Caesar and his followers as they escaped from human captivity. The first film shows Apes as innocent. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gave us division. With humans who believe in peace, humans who believe apes need to be wiped out, apes who believe in peace, and apes who believe that humanity needs to be wiped out. With good and bad on each side, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, suggests that evil spawns from intelligence and that, Apes are no better than humans but Caesar was still all good. War for the Planet of the Apes is all about Caesar's inner struggle and determining whether or not he is all good.
Fantastic and interesting premise. This film executes it very poorly. The reason behind Caesar's rage is completely understandable. All audiences will be able to understand with him and, futhermore, they will agree with him that The Colonel needs to be taken out of the picture. As a result of this, audiences will not be behind the internal struggle. They will see what Caesar is doing as right so won't be invested in a storyline that suggests Caesar is wrong. Additionally, the supposed "War", that the title refers to, does not currently involve Apes. The war is happening and the Apes are really just stuck in the middle of it. They just do happen to be geographically close to The Colonel.
As a result of these two points, I really was not behind the storyline of this film at all. The past two films had such strong writing and I felt as though this new film had, by far, the weakest.
Pro: Woody Harrelson (+4pts)
Like I said, I felt like the writing for this movie was weak. Andy Serkis was able to overcome his character's writing and was still give audiences an interesting character to watch, simply from his performance. Woody Harrelson was the same. His character was not written very well, with the plot withholding his backstory until nearly the very end of the film. Thanks to Woody Harrelson, this one-note character was still interesting to watch. Through his performance, he was able to convey that there was much more to this character than simply: The Colonel hates monkeys. He sympathized with Caesar when he learned of Caesar's loss. This was spoken but Woody Harrelson's eyes conveyed that it was very sincere. This was, on the surface, a one-note character that Woody Harrelson added a ton of depth to. Another fantastic performance by a fantastic actor. I honestly cannot remember a movie in which I thought Woody Harrelson gave a bad performance.
Con: Human Devolution (-2pts)
One big question mark I had going into this film was: would they explain the human devolution? Anyone, who has seen the original films, knows that humans and apes had essentially swapped roles. Humans were primitive beings and could not speak while apes had become intelligent rulers of society. These movies have done a good job of showing the evolution of apes but, up until now, have not explained the devolution of humans. The human population has severely diminished but the remaining humans are still intelligent.
This movie gives an explanation that felt like more lazy writing. Human devolution could have been a fourth movie. Instead they throw out an explanation as quickly as possible and focused back on Caesar's revenge story. Even though the "War" really centered around the human devolution.
The best way I can explain this is, there are two main storylines in this film. Human Devolution and Caesar's revenge. Human Devolution is really the main storyline, but the movie focuses on the secondary storyline. It ended up feeling less impactful so I really do not know why the filmmakers could not create a story about human devolution that focuses on Caesar.
Grade: C+ (78pts)
I think that War for the Planet of the Apes has some good action, great acting, fun characters, and introduces some compelling issues for its characters. Where the film falls short is the execution of those compelling issues. It was as if the movie had all of these interesting plot points then tried to find the laziest possible way to connect them. The "War" actually has very little to do with the apes. My issues with this film all seem to come down on the writing. Maybe it was the writers fault, or maybe the blame falls on the studio. I have no idea, but I know the result is (in my opinion) the weakest of the current Planet of the Apes franchise.
I would not go as far as to say it is a bad movie, but it could have been great and the previous two films are proof of that. While the plot issues will result in bored audiences, there is still some fun to be had in this movie and (if you have loved the previous films) I recommend seeing this movie. Just do not expect it to blow you away.
If you have not seen or been a fan of the previous movies, you should stay away from this one.