Movie Review: “War for the Planet of the Apes” – What Is It Good For?

Written by Matt Butler July 26, 2017

war for the planet of the apes

These are fascinating times we live in. We now have not one, but three movies about monkeys who take over the world. On top of that, they’re dramas. And on top of that, they’re made in a way that you can actually take them seriously. But the crowning achievement of fascination goes to War for the Planet of the Apes. A film that takes the premise of “Apes Take Over The World” and makes it…boring. For better or worse, we should be proud of how we’ve evolved.

Now, this sounds like a mixed message, but that’s exactly my reaction to War for the Planet of the Apes. It has all the dramatic weight of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But there’s something missing this time around, something that would have kept me engaged the way Dawn did.

“I did not start this war, but I will finish it.”

First, some of the positives. Like any decent sequel, it pushes the story into its next logical stage. Now the apes are not just on equal footing with the humans. In many ways, they stand above them. As the apes show signs of evolution, the humans devolve, losing their speech ability (a symptom of the Simian Flu). So the ape/human reversal of dominance is all but inevitable. The only thing that stands in the way of Ceasar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe of apes claiming the planet are small human resistances spattered about the globe. One such band is led by a fascist para-military officer bent on exterminating the apes and all humans infected by the Simian Flu.

war for the planet of the apes

By this point in the Apes saga, we’ve all but accepted the fate of humankind. And while this stands as a victory for our ape heroes, there’s no shortage of empathy for the ill-fated humans. Even the tyrannical Colonel, played with surprising reservation by Woody Harrelson, becomes a tragic figure. These are all sensible choices in service of pushing the story forward. The problem is that they aren’t very exciting choices, and while they push the story forward, they don’t propel it.

“APES TOGETHER STRONG!”

Everything about War for the Planet of the Apes feels like an aftermath of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Again, it’s a logically constructed follow-up, but it always feels overshadowed by everything that was already accomplished. Despite a grim, melancholy, holocaust vibe, there’s large chunks of the film where the conflict feels missing. We’re also acutely aware that this is the bridge between the prequel saga and the original 1968 film (until they inevitably make the fourth one). You know where all this is going and the movie knows you know. But it never pulls you under the rug.

war for the planet of the apes

Tonally, War is a prime example of flat-lining. This is when your story sticks so firmly to one emotional state that it cancels out emotional responses altogether. Transformers: Age of Extinction flat-lines the audience with explosions ad nase um (an unfair comparison, of course). What War for the Planet of the Apes needs is a cause the audience can get behind. In Rise, it was believing that Caesar could elevate himself above his cruel human captors. In Dawn, it was the belief that man and ape could coexist on even ground. Now the apes have all but won, and despite a few deaths and a Great Escape-esque prison raid, not much seems at stake.

“There are times when it is necessary to abandon our humanity to save humanity.”

At times, the movie feels like it’s drawing out its melodrama by literally slowing down the scene. Watching this movie, particularly in the second half, actors seem to move at 50% speed. (Although I was kind of nodding off at that point…). To complement its mellow tone, War includes a comic relief ape called Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). His entrance into the film does nothing but drag the story to a halt, but it’s also very obvious why he’s in this movie. I’m pretty set on the notion that the writers, upon looking over how grim and depressing the screenplay was, just threw in this single comic relief character in the hopes of bringing some necessary levity. It works about as well as Jar Jar Binks.

war for the planet of the apes

Still, if you’ve enjoyed Rise and Dawn, I can’t say you should outright skip this one. Andy Serkis is still fantastic, as are most of the apes, who all look twice as life-like this time around (fitting how the apes have evolved at the same speed as motion capture technology!). There’s just not enough emotional resonance to compare with Dawn, and much of that has to do with the inevitability of things. It’s like halfway through, the movie just decided to give up, which is as boring as it is tragic to watch. Even when the mute girl, Nova (Amiah Miller), sees her father’s dead body, she just stares at it blankly. No emotional reaction. War for the Planet of the Apes is missing those scenes of tender emotion where we feel for someone in a profound and surprising way. The Apes saga has proved itself far more profound than it needed to be, but this film was much less surprising than it should have been.

My Rating: 6/10

war for the planet of the apes

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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