War for the Planet of the Apes

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Tonight, I attended a triple showing of the three recent Planet of the Apes movies, including the brand new War for the Planet of the Apes.  The new trilogy has been considered one of the best of all time.  So I was really excited about seeing the third installment.

And, I was pretty disappointed with what I saw.  It was okay.  But it was nowhere near what I had expected.  After seeing all three films together, I believe that War of the Planet of the Apes is the weakest of the three films.

The battle between apes and humans have been going on for two years, and there has been problems on both sides.  Caesar (Andy Serkis) wants things to end, bringing peace to the apes.  However, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) is not ready to give it up.  After some tragic losses, Caesar’s darker instincts take over and he sets out for revenge.

Let’s say that, of course, the film looks beautiful.  The effects of this film continue to blow your mind.  You look at these apes and are constantly amazed that they are not real apes.  The look of these characters are astounding.  The cinematography was lush and rich and amazing to watch. Plus, apes on horses… what else do you need?

Unfortunately, this felt like the least compelling the character of Caesar has been.  This character did not work nearly as well with the vengeful concept as it did with the first two movies.  I was the least interested in Caesar than I had ever been.  I was also less involved in the performance by Andy Serkis.  It seemed as if all Caesar would say was “I don’t know” and do things that was out of character for him.  Sure, i understood why the character was acting as he was, but it just did not feel right.  I think as a narrative, it just did not work to place Caesar into this situation.

I though the addition of Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape to the cast was a misstep.  This character brought an element of humor into the film that just was out of place.  It was more uncomfortable most of the time than it was funny.  I did enjoy the character of Nova (Amiah Miller) for what she was.  The little girl had a decent character arc and had a fascinating tie in with the original (1966) film.  The connection between Nova and Maurice was very fun and sweet.  Nova never felt as if she stepped over the line into too saccharine sweet, which could have been a danger for this type of character.

The best part of the film was clearly Woody Harrelson as the Colonel.  Harrelson was thrilling and downright frightening as the psychotic soldier who is preparing for all out war.  I enjoyed the way Harrelson interacted with Caesar and I also liked the ironic resolution of the character.  Some of the horrific things that the Colonel does really resonates with the audience and brings a hatred of him as the villain.

The film did drag a bit for me in the initial stages, picking up dramatically in the second and third acts.  Speaking of the third act, without spoiling anything, there is a big old deus ex machina that reared its ugly head near the end of the film that comes along at the perfect time.  Deus ex machina tends to be a lazy way to bail out the characters, and this is really no exception.

The action was very good and I liked that it was not overused.  The action scenes really punctuated the feel of the film properly.  My problem with War for the Planet of the Apes was not a lack of action.  It is kind of difficult to put a finger on it.  I wonder if seeing the two superior films prior to the third one affected my thoughts.

There were several scenes meant to elicit the feels from the audience and some of them work fairly well.  Others of them were forced and were not as effective.  A couple were predictable and lacked the necessary oomph for what the film was going for.  There is heart in the film, but it is not as strong as the previous two films.

I don’t mean to be overly negative, because I am going to give this a moderately fresh review and recommendation, but I suggest not going into the film with expectations too high.  It is not your typical summer blockbuster and if you are looking for that, you will be disappointed.  War for the Planet of the Apes does bring the trilogy to a satisfactory conclusion, but the third film just does not feel as substantive as the first two films.

3 stars



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