With such impressive previous films in the trilogy, War For The Planet Of The Apes had a lot to live up to, especially with its 1960s origins. However, it doesn’t quite make it to the standards of either Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes or Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, but it still manages to entertain enough to make it worth watching.
Perhaps the most significant issue overall is that the story development is a little all over the place and struggles to hold onto credibility throughout the entirety of the film. It starts out with a slightly clumsy recap on the previous films, before jumping ahead to Caesar and his band in hiding from a marauding military force, spearheaded by a brutal colonel who will stop at nothing to eradicate ape kind.
The rationale behind the Colonel’s genocidal efforts seem a bit far fetched and entirely unnecessary in the mix of everything else that’s going on in the film. The credibility factor is also picked at by little things, like the nonchalance of the apes when they’re near to the enemy or the betrayal of the “Donkeys”.
If that isn’t enough to bring down our review then the amount of classic movie thematic and stylistic appropriation does the rest of the job with Apocalypse Now and Shindler’s List being snipped, chewed up and inserted. Obviously, they’re meant as complimentary nods that reiterate the morality themes touched on in the films, but they’re delivered with too much voracity, which is garbled and out of place.
Luckily, the film has Andy Serkis (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) in exceptional form as ape leader, Caesar, with both great physical presence and dialogue delivery. He’s got both Karin Konoval (Dawn Of The Planet Of Th Apes) and Terry Notary (The Square) doing an equally impressive job as Maurice and Rocket. Steve Zahn (The Good Dinosaur) puts in a solid performance as Bad Ape, but the character seems a little misplaced, like somebody said “hey, we need a few gags” and voila. In all fairness to him and writers, Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves, he is pretty funny, but it’s not massively in keeping with the previous films or the rest of War For The Planet Of The Apes.
The film also introduces mute orphan girl, Nova, with Amiah Miller making a good cinematic debut in the role, creating both iconic visuals and a real sense of humanity. There’s a good morality tale to the character’s inclusion in the screenplay and she helps to build in positives to cut through the weaker elements of the storyline.
Woody Harrelson is a bit of a conundrum though. There are plenty of moments that work very well for him, but every now and again he gets a little too Colonel Kurtzy, adding to the overuse of Apocalypse Now references. He’s also got the challenge of making the overblown reasoning for The Colonel’s actions stick and while he puts in an admirable amount of intensity, it doesn’t overshadow it enough.
As we’ve seen in the previous films, the CGI and special effects are highly detailed and convincing, especially the facial construction and movement for the apes. There are a couple of minor blips that are hard to spot, like Maurice’s floating walk or Luca’s overly distended stomach, but for the most part, the film is very well crafted visually, combining well with the jungle and snowy mountain backdrops.
Review scores have been fairly favourable from other critics and review aggregators, so we’re going against the tide a little with the criticism for the film, but with such a great opening two parts to the trilogy it was frustrating to see it losing its way a little. That’s not to say that it isn’t worth a watch, it’s just not the epic finale cinemagoers will have been hoping for.
Maybe the fact that the writing team behind War For The Planet Of The Apes didn’t include the previous duo of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver unsettled the end delivery, but it’s a missed opportunity. Take away the cinematic appropriation and muddled reasoning and this could have been something special.
War For The Planet Of The Apes review: 3/5