Movie Review: “War for the Planet of the Apes”

   When I left the theater after watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I had a giddy excitement from the whole affair. Although I enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes, when I watched Dawn, I felt it checked all the boxes, delivering an ambitious epic and one of the best science-fiction films I’d ever seen. As excited as I was for the film, I will admit I left War for the Planet of the Apes with a certain pensive misalignment of emotion. I enjoyed what I watched, but I didn’t boast about the film with the same enthusiasm as its predecessor. Directed by Matt Reeves (same as Dawn), the third installment in the Planet of the Apes reboot series, War for the Planet of the Apes bolsters a grandeur narrative and capable cast, ones from the previous movies, as well as trading Gary Oldman for Woody Harrelson, but does the film cap-off the series firing at all cylinders? Did my heightened, perhaps unrealistic, expectations for the film unfairly detriment my initial response? In my second-watch of the film, this time on Blu-Ray, I attempt to answer that.
   Following from where things left off in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, humans are on the verge of extinction as they pit themselves against the apes, led by Caesar, in a battle for control of Earth. On a more personal ground-level, however, War for the Planet of the Apes is about Caesar’s pursuit for revenge. The leader of a paramilitary organization called Alpha-Omega heads an attack on the apes that not only succeeds at killing several of them, but enrages Caesar, who leaves his herd in search of The Colonel, also leaving them without a leader.

​   Tonally, War for the Planet of the Apes is much-closer to its immediate predecessor than it is Rises, juggling a similar, but even more serious approach. “What have I done,” is a question Caesar asks, as the film ponders the double-edged sword that is revenge. Andy Serkis, who once more performs the motion-capturing and voice-work for Caesar, continues to work phenomenally with the character, and Woody Harrelson’s calm, soft-spoken, small-winded and icy performance makes him an intimidating figurehead to stand as Caesar’s adversary.

   Some criticisms I had in-regards to the film have lessened with my more recent viewing of the film. In-fact, what I’d once had a problem with, the “Bad Ape” chimpanzee who acts as comic-relief in the film, is more a preference than a criticism. I would have preferred they not tried to lighten up and tried, rather, to tighten the narrative’s drama. Criticisms I can’t forget about, however, include some of the relationships cultivated, particularly ones cultivated between a young girl and the Apes who’ve befriended her. The relationship and apparent bond can oftentimes feel rushed, resulting in dramatic moments that feel unearned. Something else I want to mention that I never believed I would beforehand, is that I feel the score embedded into the film, while very good, feels overexposed. The soft melancholy notes chime in an occasionally overbearing amount, sometimes sounding off in moments I think would’ve been more effective in silence. Along with that, I do think certain story elements and scenes feel wedged in for creating the aura of more emotional depth, and, for some of them, I think they could’ve been done without. In-general, I think the film is sometimes betrayed by its grandiose spectacle, and I think a more linear, focused character-study on Caesar and The Colonel might’ve made for a stronger film.

   The story-line and its progression remain mostly aligned with the series as very well-written, shot, and produced. Even if I criticize some moments that I believe might’ve been better with further nuance or a fainter touch, a strength of this film, like Dawn, in-comparison to many other large-budget science-fiction films, is its ability to allow for breathing room. This doesn’t feel like a standalone installment by any stretch, building off the momentum of its predecessors, however, it does feel contained as an epic-scale adventure all its own.

   I don’t want to overlook the cinematography and sheer spectacle on display in this film. The new iteration of the Planet of the Apes franchise has been a loud and proud declaration of what computer-generated special-effects are truly capable of. It’s through the high-quality craftmanship and technique at work that the characters can exist, and by the performances of those involved, each character is brought to life. Serkis’ performance as Caesar is the stand-out performance in the film in-terms of his emotional reach and facial expressions, but, through and through, everyone delivers commendably.

   War for the Planet of the Apes may not be a perfect film, at least not in my opinion, but I do think it is a very good film. Carried by strong performances, bolstered by the goodwill and past inertia of its predecessors, and high-production value that shows discipline in its regime and careful consideration. Tentpole films like this rarely ever are allowed the breathing room this film was afforded, and it delivered it strides, closing (presumably) the new Planet of the Apes Trilogy on a high-mark. 

Rating: – Very Good

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