Derek Winnert


This article was written on 11 Jul 2017, and is filled under Reviews.

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War for the Planet of the Apes *** (2017, Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn) – Movie Review

Now a fully English speaking talking ape, chimp leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the apes he commands are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of rebel humans led by the viciously ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson), leading to an epic climactic battle.

Co-writer/ director Matt Reeves, returning after directing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), has come up with a spare, spartan script for this the eighth (or ninth if you count the one-off film by Tim Burton) of the Apes movies, the last in the current trilogy. It is self contained but really requires knowledge of, and fondness for, the two previous movies, as well as the franchise. It is co-written by executive producer Mark Bomback. Both Reeves and Bomback are clearly in love with the Apes, and that shows in what looks like a labour of love.

Terry Notary and Karin Konoval return from the two previous films as Rocket, and orangutan Maurice, two of Caesar’s most faithful followers. But unfortunately, Caesar also is joined by a couple of irritating characters, a little girl named Nova (named after the character played by Linda Harrison in the first and second Apes films) and talking chimpanzee Bad Ape (played by Steve Zahn).

They don’t get in the way too much, but they do get in the way. Zahn has the film’s two jokes to perform – they are both silly and lame, and are wrong-headed efforts to change the tone of a commendably Really Serious Movie.

Acting wise, there is nothing anyone can do. Maybe Serkis is in there somewhere as Caesar, but it could be anybody or nobody. You can just about detect Zahn’s whiny voice if you know it’s him, by basically he could be anybody too. Nova has nothing to say. So that leaves only Harrelson to be able to give a performance, and they have given him far, far too much to do. He is OK, quite good even,  but just a one-note villain, and somewhere in the middle of the film gets bogged down in pages of dull dialogue that really stall the film.

Most of this could simply be cut, and much more of the movie happily edited out, so that the film could run a taut, say 120 minutes, instead of its present flabby 140 minutes. Even some of the acting is repetitive and whatever the opposite of taut and exciting is.

The story is very simple and basic – just a B movie plot, elevated by a huge budget. Nothing really wrong with that. It’s just that good B movies need to be short, pacy and impactful. This one is a bit bloated and flabby.

It does look great, in places, and there is some great action in places. Some of the visual effects look fantastic but other visual effects look cheap. Some of the battle sequences are thrilling but some of the battle sequences fail to excite through failing to be credible. Caesar’s bid to blow everything up and escape from the ensuing inferno is just ridiculous. You always have to keep the scale real in monster movies. And this is a monster movie, right?

Or is it? Weren’t the Apes originally the monsters having to be combated by us, the humans? Now they are somehow cuddly and charming, the sympathetic quasi humans that we must love Disney style, with Caesar having a voice just like us and feelings just like ours. Why, then, is he [it] an Ape at all? This anthropomorphic thing is just wrong.

The score goes all Disney on us a few times in its sentimental mood, which is quite bad. But what is quite good is all the rest of Michael Giacchino’s bold and innovative score. It really is worth sitting and listening to. It is often exciting when the movie isn’t.

Wobbly visual effects apart, the film looks great in director of photography’s Michael Seresin noir-style cinematography. Some of the images are brilliant. The photography really is dark and stylish. The film has a superb look about it, no doubt of that. It is well dressed up for somewhere to go. But where? That’s always the problem for a great night out.

The trailer looks great – just one long, noir-driven battle. Essentially that’s what the film would like to be, but somehow it has failed to be. It is a commendably hard and grown-up movie, which dark-toned and violent. It is certainly entirely watchable, even enjoyable and entertaining, perhaps better than it predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014). But, sending you home on a horrible downer, it still doesn’t convince that there is any good reason to prolong the sagging Ape saga.

It looks like the next episode could be all about Nova and Bad Ape – that would be bad: Final Death of the Planet of the Apes.

The original run of Apes films was Planet of the Apes (1968), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).

The franchise continued on TV in 1974 as the Planet of the Apes series that only ran for 14 episodes. A 13-episode TV animated series Return to the Planet of the Apes followed in 1975 with Austin Stoker as Jeff Allen. Then Planet of the Apes (2001) was revived as a one-off by Tim Burton, and the franchise was rebooted in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and War for the Planet of the Apes.

© Derek Winnert 2017  Movie Review

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