All is (not) Fair in Love and ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’

It’s almost with bias that I write this review. I’ve never loved a franchise more than I love Planet of the Apes. I couldn’t tell you if it is because I am mesmerized by the sheer spectacle of the special effects on screen or just because I have always loved monkeys (excuse me, they prefer the term “ape”), but I found myself transfixed by what was going on on screen.

This latest reboot trilogy may be one of the more under appreciated of the recent string of sequels, reboots, and remakes Hollywood has been heavily reliant upon. The films make great amounts of money, but they certainly aren’t Marvel, DC, or The Fast & The Furious. However, this universe is always the one that pulls me in the most. I always find myself extremely invested in the Apes storylines, whether it be the cheesy Roddy McDowell speeches in Conquest, the silly time travel of Escape, or even the recent saga of Caesar. This reboot trilogy has proven to be one of the better released this decade and should be held in higher regard than mere box office numbers can reflect.

The last two films were both critical and commercial successes, but, again, are never talked about in the same breath as Hollywood reboots. But I appreciate this ape saga more than anything else onscreen (to be honest, Fast & Furious is a close second).

So, does War do the trilogy fitting justice?

It’s easy to compare it to the other three. The whole thing has run like normal trilogy fare: the first sets up the origins, the second is usually the best as it can play around with narrative and tone a bit more, and the third always has the daunting task of finishing the job. More often than not, this is the hardest one to accomplish. How many Part 3s do you know to be the best in a trilogy?

War picks up some time after the Koba-led ape-rebellion of the last film. Caesar is still trying to heal the wounds between ape and man, but is fighting the losing battle as new a general, McCullough (Woody Harrelson), is mad with intent on killing all apes. After the general finds out where the apes have gone into hiding, he launches an attack, resulting in personal implications for Caesar.

Caesar then vows revenge against the general and tries to seek him out.

It’s a pretty standard Western, which makes for a truly compelling film. If you had told me an idea for a great film would be if they remade those Sergio Leone Westerns with apes instead of Clint Eastwood, I’d be entertained, but conclude that you have the wrong idea of cinema.

Director Matt Reeves does a good job of keeping a tight narrative. He clearly knows the story he wants to tell. The special effects he uses are top-notch. Not once did I find it hard to believe that there was actually an ape on screen. And, of course, Andy Serkis does his due diligence of giving these characters the life they deserve. In fact, you could say that about any of the actors who played an ape in this film.

The movie finds itself in a rather unique place, as the last two films were loose remakes of Conquest for the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The third film in the franchise finds itself in the position of a second film in a trilogy. In some respects, this is its worse enemy.

When one gets a title like War for the Planet of the Apes, one expects a war. Ultimately, we are cut short. In fact, although the last third is filmed beautifully and action-packed, some of the results may leave you feeling a little cheated once you think back about the choices that were made.

I think the script could have used one more thinking-through before they started filming.

This is unfortunate to say, because I really liked this movie and all the other movies that preceded it. It is poignant, well-acted, wonderfully filmed, and well directed. Go see it, if not for mere spectacle, but I’ll apologize on behalf of Matt Reeves for the ending, maybe it isn’t his fault.

*** I am not giving this movie a banana rating because that is offensive to apes. I do believe in the ape uprising and, when that happens, I will side with the apes.

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