War For the Planet of the Apes (2017)
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Gabriel Chavarria
Synopsis: The battle between the remainder of humans and the increasing majority of highly-intelligent apes continues in the third installment of the popular reboot series.
What works: It’s fine. It’s actually better than fine but most of the awe in this installment comes from the the advancement to the motion-capture and CGI work on display. Serkis, WETA and company have more than mastered the Mo-Cap technology and this movie is just brilliant to watch for how great the animals are.
The story isn’t flimsy by any stretch either. It continues right after the last battle between apes and humans and the bulk of this movie shows that humans are on thin-ice figuratively in terms of dominate species on the planet. Woody Harrelson does a decent job channeling his inner Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now (the film actually has a scene with the words “Ape-pocalyse Now” scrawled as graffiti on a wall) as the leader of a rogue squadron of humans who will stop at nothing to survive, even if that means fighting fellow humans. Harrelson’s main motivation is that his son is dead, sacrificed by the Colonel himself, because the Simian Flu who gave the apes like Caesar his greater intelligence is causing humans to regress to a primitive state, mostly displayed by the inability to speak in this film. The Colonel sees this flu as a greater threat to human-kind and wants to execute any person who has the disease to halt its spreading. This is why the other army is after his platoon.
To stop the advancing other army, the Colonel captures every ape he can to enslave them into building a wall (made of wood and stone for some reason). Caesar must regain his confidence to lead his fellow apes in an uprising and escape before the shit hits the fan.
Steve Zahn plays another ape with actual speech, called Bad Ape and finally this rebooted franchise gets some light-hearted comedy relief. He’s never over the top silly but is a direct foil to Caesar’s gung-ho and stoic nature.
The cinematography is as beautiful as the previous installments and the music by Michael Giacchino (kee-rist, does that guy ever get a break?) is top-notch. I do have nit-picks with the film but they never distracted with the over-all enjoyment of the film and it never bothered me or the over-all story.
What fails: I’m sure this isn’t the end of the new Apes series so there’s more story to tell, however, nothing really is newly introduced in this film except the discovery of the Simian Flu making human’s more primitive. If you ever saw the original Planet of the Apes, then you’ll see where this development is going. That’s fine, but this film is more or less a direct continuation of the last film by making it humans vs. apes. Sure, there’s some existential crisis with Caesar in wanting revenge and becoming more like Koba from the previous film. But the Colonel personally kills Caesar’s wife and son, so who wouldn’t want revenge in that same scenario? Plus, if Caesar didn’t go off on his own and joined his tribe to go to the desert lands in the hope of avoiding more killjoy humans, they all would’ve ended up in the same place since the Colonel’s troops captured Caesar’s tribe anyway.
The Colonel’s base itself is a pragmatic nightmare itself. I mentioned earlier that they force the enslaved apes to build a wall of rotting wood and stones. But the base has a huge, seemingly always open door for the entrance. I don’t recall there being a drawbridge or heavy-set movable entrance that they can open and shut to keep out invaders. In fact, the security at this base is borderline moronic. The one human girl who has the Simian Flu and cannot speak who has been adopted by the apes strolls into the base one evening unnoticed (through the open door) to give food and water to Caesar. If she had the means and a couple of extra minutes, she could’ve picked the lock to his cell. There’s also a scene where one guard (key word: One) who overlooks the enslaved ape-pen gets hit on his neck by feces and enters, with his keys, into the pen to demand who throw the poo. No other guard is watching this happen nor do they notice when he’s left his post.
The other problem about this army base is the series of tunnels already built underground the camp that Caesar’s mates, Maurice and Bad Ape as well as the mute girl navigate in. Somehow the tunnels are underneath the ape-pens and cells and that’s how the escape. The real trouble I have is, again, no security at all AT ALL, but all they do is practically stick their paws into the ceiling and simply dig a hole into the pens. I’m no miner in the least but how is this possible? What’s stopping all the troops marching and Ape cavorting from causing a cave-in if the ceiling for these tunnels is just a couple of inches of dirt? Ponderous indeed.
Something else I could complain about is the title. Like we mentioned on our Dawn of the Planet of the Apes review that “Dawn” and “Rise” are essentially the same thing, this one’s title also doesn’t perfectly convey the over-all story. There wasn’t so much a war between the humans and the apes like in in that they fought in hand to ape-paw combat as through most of the film the apes were more prisoners of war. They barely even touched weapons. Again, a minor nitpick because the film is good and the title sounds great but it should’ve been called Escape From the Planet of the Apes or The Great Ape Escape!
Overall: I’m a huge fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise, old as well as these rebooted ones and see a lot of greatness with how they handle these reboots. Sure there’s some fan-service and without going into spoilers, it seems like they plan to wrap back around to the originals soon if this new series continues. Which is fine because the way these new ones are made and cared for I trust they should be better than the Tim Burton remake back in 2001. This one has its flaws and it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table but it’s still entertaining as hell and only a real hardcore nitpicker will be bothered by the flaws to enjoy themselves. But I didn’t even notice that this film was 2 hours and 20 minutes which is a great sign.
Score: 8 “Cherry Blossom Gifts From a Gorilla” (out of 10)