War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) – Review

Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller

The Overview
After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. (Source: IMDb)

The Good
The staggering feats of animation in both Rise and Dawn were undoubtedly one of the biggest strengths of this new Planet of the Apes trilogy, with incredible motion-capture performances providing photo-realistic apes and ground-breaking effects. Additionally, they were films which took themselves seriously, but in the best possible way, with an almost Shakespearean quality to them. The cast of apes, headed up by “Mr Mo-Cap” (that’s an unofficial nickname by the way) Andy Serkis, were as engaging – if not more so – than any of their human counterparts, and indeed where the human cast were interchangeable, most of the apes have remained a constant throughout.

In this third and final part of the trilogy, Andy Serkis’ Caesar is every bit as engaging as he was in previous films and he makes for an endlessly intriguing and captivating leader. After suffering a personal tragedy, the stakes for Caesar are incredibly high and whilst his personal vendetta against the human perpetrators is a necessary evil for him, he is also haunted by rebel ape Koba, and the sense of inner and outer anguish he feels about heading down the same path is one of the strongest things about the film.

It is hard to believe that so much humanity is created on the faces of these apes, and where in previous films the line was blurry between man and beast, in War it is glaringly obvious that the humans are the real beasts here. The biggest beast in question is Woody Harrelson’s ‘The Colonel’, and whilst I was left disappointed with where this character ended up, when he was on screen he was an imposing and terrifying presence, a worthy adversary to Caesar and a genuine threat to ape-kind.

It is impossible to talk about these films without talking about the effects, and in this film they are the best they’ve been; absolutely flawless and mind-blowingly good. It is easy to forget that these are human performances created with highly sophisticated motion-capture technology, and the notion of apes riding horses or talking is one which never seems ridiculous, and the incredible effects go a long way in making this believable.

The ever dependable Michael Giacchino provides a score which is able to change the mood on a dime, and it really is quite breath-taking. It highlights and heightens the moments of tension, it soars, sweeps and generates emotion when it needs to, and it even switches to a more light-hearted and comedic tone as the story dictates. Have yet to test whether listening to it in isolation holds the same power, but I am fairly confident that it will.

Visually, War is a completely different beast to its predecessors; noticeably so in fact but in a very good way! Michael Seresin has truly created a thing of beauty here; the imagery is stark, bleak but absolutely stunning. There’s some shots in near-dark which are unbelievably tense and the backdrop of snow creates an environment that is just as bleak as the subject matter. It is still a film of blockbuster proportions but yet with a rare cinematic quality that puts it heads and shoulders above similar fare, from an aesthetic point of view.  

The Bad
Perhaps it was the battle scenes of Dawn that set the bar a little too high, but I did find the final “battle” (and yes those quotation marks are necessary here!) to be something of an anti-climax. Rather than being the all-out war that was promised, it was more of a daring escape, and whilst not short of action, it wasn’t quite the man vs ape showdown that I was hoping for or expecting.

Whilst the emotion and power of the build-up is never lost, the disappointing end battle does somehow feel like it doesn’t do justice to everything which precedes it which is a little bit of a shame. Desperately trying to avoid spoilers here, but as alluded to, where the Colonel character ends up, I found incredibly disappointing. Expecting this big showdown between Caesar and Colonel, the result was frustratingly anti-climactic. Removing this key component from what could’ve been a fight between two titans took a lot of the weight out of the final battle. It also made it incredibly easy to see what the end result was going to be, and from that moment on, I was completely taken out of the film.

There are moments of light relief, mostly from the new character “Bad Ape” (Zahn), and for me this was something which felt a little misjudged. Given the serious tone of the rest of the film and the pretty bleak subject matter, the sudden shift to slapstick comedy was incredibly jarring, and in my opinion, not needed. 

The Verdict
I saw this movie and you should too. Anyone who follows me on social media was probably expecting a negative review as my gut reaction was one of feeling disappointed and underwhelmed, and indeed that was the review I was expecting to write! I think the lesson learned here is to manage expectations a little, and whilst I can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed with the final battle, there was still much to like about this film. It isn’t perfect, many reviews will tell you that it is, but I stand by my gut reaction that it is easily my least favourite out of the three. That being said, it is still an incredible feat in technology and special effects, and a fitting end to this excellent trilogy of films. Absolutely worth a watch, but do go in with your expectations more in check than mine were… 

Rating: ★★★★

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6 comments

  1. Spot on how I felt after coming out of it. With a title like War…. I was expecting a lot more of it, especially after the excellent opening sequence and the finale was a bit flat. Bad Ape was not needed in my opinion, didn’t fit into the film like you say.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Genuinely thought I was alone in my thoughts as most of the comments seem to overwhelmingly full of praise. Can fully see why people would love it but I shouldn’t be coming out of a film like this and first thinking “was that it?” haha

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Looking at Matt Reeves’ previous films, especially Dawn, I wasn’t going in expecting it to be an explosion filled war movie. He always focuses on the characters and personally, I preferred the more personal, revenge storyline. I fully understand why someone would go into the film expecting an exciting, summer war movie and come out disappointed, but if anything it’s the marketing teams fault for teasing a different movie. I loved this movie and it’s probably taken over Logan as my favourite of the year so far. Please check out my review: https://nerd-feed.com/2017/07/12/war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes-review/

    Like

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