I never thought that I would be motivated to write a movie review. Like I’ve said previously it just didn’t seem like an entertaining prospect to me because it is much more interesting to write about movies that I have had a long time to think about. It’s not that I don’t trust myself to have any ideas, but moreso that I won’t have to defend those ideas as actively as I would with a movie that is so recent. War for the Planet of the Apes has forced my hand, however, and not in the good way.
As I mentioned in my previous article detailing the underrated qualities of Tim Burton’s reboot, I love this franchise. It’s just so full of interesting ideas, themes, characters, and acting. While I noted that I love the original movies and appreciated Burton’s film for their brilliant use of camp and talented casts – that is not to say I haven’t enjoyed this current reboot series. It has two fantastic aspects that have set it apart in terms of quality and longevity in the time before War was released: the care and intricacies of Caesar’s character and the tight, smart, plot of Dawn which showcased the thematic and emotional potential of the series. Unfortunately, only one of those is present in War.
In War we still follow Caesar’s character and his arc remains the focus of the film. The weariness of war, guilt, and general PTSD weigh heavily on him throughout the entire movie. This is in itself not a bad thing, as Caesar’s arc is wholly engaging – but it loses a lot of impact if it isn’t directed at something equally as engaging. This is where the movie falls flat because the rest of the characters, human and ape, aren’t really as well-rounded or developed. In Dawn there was a lot of nuance with conflict bearers Koba and Gary Oldman, so the movie was able to elevate and engage with this conflict on many levels. Here the conflict remains staunchly two-dimensional.
The biggest conflict bearer is in the Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson, who is a figure of much mystery throughout the first half of the movie. All we know is that he’s dangerous, skilled, and commands loyalty. Again, just these vague traits that don’t really say much at all – and when we finally do meet him, he gives an incredibly cliche motivation rant. Due to the length and predictability of this rant it even manages to come off as just exposition rather than something that informs character, in fact the stuff he explains that doesn’t reflect the “I had to become a monster” rant had me more interested. The other bearer is a gorilla, but we’ll get to him later because it deserves special mention.
The only other prominent human characters are simply props for thematic beats, which would be fine but they are only props. I’m sorry to say but the little girl on all the posters, while funny and cute in the movie, doesn’t really have much to do outside being the morality pet for Caesar as he contemplates going on a revenge quest. There’s really nothing more to it than that and it’s a shame because it leads to a movie that only Caesar is carrying, much like Rise. Even the apes this time around, Maurice, Rocket, Caesar’s son – also only exist to serve the plot and to product plot beats. There’s nothing that they do that we haven’t seen before. Especially Maurice, who again bonds with a human child, like in Dawn – only this time it gets overtaken by Caesar’s thematic bonds as well.
Really, the only character to make an impression outside of Caesar as a character is “Bad Ape”, played by Steve Zahn. Outside of Caesar he is the only ape to actively speak English, and so is able to connect more due to that and have scenes that speak to his personality. He’s both one of the most tragic characters, but also the comic relief, and the use of English and Steve Zahn’s talents underlines this perfectly. But nothing really encapsulates where this movie fails than the climax. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s where the Orange Gorilla comes back in and just…it’s a mess. There’s a bunch of “poignant” scenes that all happen back-to-back in rapid succession with incredibly swelling music – and because they all happen so quickly and in slow-mo…it becomes silly.
These moments, taken apart and given space to have their own weight, might have been effective – done in the way they were it’s a lot and it feels insanely rushed. The climax of the movie as a whole is rushed and convenient – the various conflicts, the war itself, just come to a close or their unfortunately cliche conclusions. The lack of depth with some characters gives it a hollow feeling of not having had impact. Impact here means the difference between colliding with something as well made as a steel wall…or something with the consistency of a trampoline. Caesar’s arc though, it remains interesting, but even as the movie closes it begs to have been more – which it wasn’t.
Overall Estimation: 6/10