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War for the Planet of the Apes – Movie Review

War for the Planet of the Apes (poster)War… Huh… Yeah! What it is good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again y’all! Okay, with that tired joke out of the way, it turns out that war is in fact good for one thing after all. Specifically, for giving us yet another really rather good Planet of the Apes movie. (And a rather belated review for it.)

Honestly, the recent Planet of the Apes films have always flown strangely under the radar for me. Which is especially odd since they’re probably one of the most weirdly and unexpectedly good blockbuster trilogies in recent years. (I personally blame the confusing titles. Rise and Dawn mean the same thing dammit!) I liked Rise just fine and really enjoyed Dawn a lot, but they’ve never had that big an impact on me. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t interested to see whether War for the Planet of the Apes would hold up to the quality of its predecessors.

And yeah. It more or less did. It’s a very good movie. Not perfect, but still very good.

The interesting thing about the recent PotA movies (sorry but, I’m not typing out Planet of the Apes every single damn time) is they tend to shy away from the usual Hollywood action fare in favour of something more intelligent and contemplative. And, in that regard, War is no different, despite its title. There are only a handful of action scenes scattered throughout the movie, largely contained to both the beginning and the end and rarely feeling that important in the grand scheme of things. The rest of the movie is a much more atmospheric and contemplative piece, exploring themes of grief and vengeance and doing it really quite well.

Andy Serkis slips into his mo-cap suit once more to play Caesar and, as usual, ends up blowing it away. It is genuinely amazing how consistently better and better his performances and the motion capture in these films seem to get. And in that respect, War is probably a new height. Caesar goes through a complex, tortured character-arc during the movie and Serkis sells it through expressions and body language alone. Seriously, I don’t care you have to invent a new category, but give that man an Oscar for something. He more than deserves it.

Caesar and Andy Serkis

Hell, I’d say give credit to most of the cast and special effects team on this movie. There’s really not actually that much dialogue between the apes, as the film instead relies on facial expressions and movements to get across a character’s meanings and thoughts. Which is plenty risky for a film so reliant on CG visuals, but they genuinely pull it off and they pull it off well. Motion capture technology has already come a long way and I’m interested to see how it’ll develop in the future.

Now, while I do enjoy the movie overall, I do have to admit I have some problems with it, specifically with the second half. The first half I thought was flat out great, reminiscent of an old western as the characters ride across the countryside, meeting new people and locations while simultaneously Caesar deals with his own personal issues that slowly threaten to engulf him and tear him apart. And, since I’m a big fan of westerns, I naturally loved it.


However, the second half I wasn’t quite as enamoured with. It’s difficult to explain why without going into at least some minor spoilers, but needless to say there’s a shift in the movie’s style and tone part way through. Specifically, it goes from a slow, psychologically-contemplative western to almost a Schindler’s List-esque concentration camp movie filled with suffering, torture and the horrors of war. It’s dark, unsettling and despair-inducing.

However, it’s not the dark nature that is my problem with it. On the contrary, my problem is it doesn’t feel like it goes far enough.

CaesarSee, I’ve always had the view that if you’re going to use Holocaust imagery, then you damn well better go all the way with it. Show the full extent of the horrors and cruelty of that time with absolutely no restraint. Sear the images into the audiences’ brain. Make them feel the suffering and inhumanity. But War doesn’t quite go far enough with that to really work. It certainly tries to mimic the style and there certainly a few horrible things done to the apes, but it never quite captures the horror, that sense that the captors can/will murder their captives just for the hell of it. The sorts of things that films like Schindler’s List captures so perfectly.

As a result, the section is stuck in a rut. It’s too dark and depressing to gain enjoyment out of, but doesn’t go nearly far enough to achieve what it was going for. Add in the fact that it felt overly long in places and dragged somewhat and the second half kind of let the movie down quite a lot for me. Even the action scene at the end felt a bit duller and never captured that same magic as the first half.

War for the Planet of the Apes (poster 2)But, like I said, it’s still an overall good movie. The cast is great, the effects are great, Woody Harrelson makes a decent villain (although he doesn’t quite capture the same level of menace as Koba from the second movie) and it creates a real emotional connection with the audience. It’s an interesting change from usual blockbuster fare and I’m glad it got made, even if I don’t think every single part of it exactly worked.

So in conclusion, yeah, it turns out War is fairly good for something after all. The movie semi-leaves itself open for another sequel and, if they do end up following through, I’m kind of interested to see where they go with it. This had been one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable franchises in recent Hollywood history and I’d be interested to see what they do next.


One Comment

  1. Avatar ScarletBea says:

    Hey Malcolm, great review.
    I’ve never actually watched any movie in this series, do you think I should change that, then?

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