Review: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Review: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

Caesar (voiced by Andy Serkis) is being held at gunpoint in WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

Following the tragic losses of the apes during a battle against the human army, Caesar (voiced by Andy Serkis) sets out on a journey to locate the responsible Colonel (Woody Harrelson) for revenge.


REVIEW: First of all, don't be fooled by the title itself. It may sound direct and obvious. But if you are one of the fans or audiences expecting a full-scale war epic filled with lots of killing, gunfights and explosions, this is unfortunately not the kind of movie. Instead, Matt Reeves opted for a more meditative approach that emphasised heavily on the internal conflict of a war between the apes and the human (in this case, a band of soldiers led by Woody Harrelson's The Colonel). The director even made a few inspiring choices of paying homage to classic Hollywood movies including THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957), THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963) and APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) with a dash of Western genre elements. But for all the genre combinations that meshed together into the movie's post-apocalyptic setting, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES ends up being a surprisingly step-down from the superior second instalment of DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (also directed by Reeves) three years ago.

Colonel (Woody Harrelson) orchestrates an ambush attack against the apes in WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

So, what went wrong? Before I get into that, here are the few things that worked in WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. The movie gets off to a promising start with the opening combat scene in the jungle between the apes and the soldiers. Then comes the cave ambush scene, which also includes a brutally tense confrontation between Caesar and the armed Colonel with a black camouflage face-paint. However, all the rage and intensity are quickly dissolved to make way for Caesar and his fellow apes' lengthy journey on their horseback rides in search for the Colonel. Between that journey, Reeves and cinematographer Michael Seresin filled the movie with breathtaking vistas shot on location in the British Columbia wilderness. Not to mention Seresin's shot on the snow-covered background is just as visually arresting. Michael Giacchino's orchestral score is equally praiseworthy as well.

Impeccable cinematography aside, the movie has certainly improved a lot in the special effects department since DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The CGI, particularly the motion-capture technology of the apes are more lifelike than ever before. Kudos once again to Weta Digital, you'll be amazed to see every detail that has been painstakingly created for the apes. Case in point, look no further than the many close-up looks of Caesar's facial expressions. That alone should easily secure an Oscar lock-in for Best Visual Effects nomination.

Maurice (voiced by Karin Konoval) and Nova (Amiah Miller) in a scene from WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

However, the aforementioned journey is where the movie starts to feel like a slog. Sure, there are a few gentle moments that balance the overly grim tone in the form of a mute girl named Nova (Amiah Miller). The introduction of Bad Ape, who is played to hilarious perfection by Steve Zahn brings a welcome respite of comic relief. And yet, the journey remains strangely monotonous.

Even by the time WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES shifts focus to the Colonel's POW camp where Caesar is captured and joined the rest of the apes in the cage, the subsequent prison drama that unfolds doesn't carry as much genuine dramatic weight as expected. Don't get me wrong. I do appreciate Reeves' ambition of blending THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and THE GREAT ESCAPE during the long stretch in the POW camp. But an obvious homage alone isn't enough. It's true that Reeves, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Mark Bomback, tries to intensify the moments with ape slavery and torture. Still, I can't really feel neither the internal struggle nor the emotional intensity that Caesar and his imprisoned apes are facing in the POW camp. It's like the intention to generate some grits are there. But it barely scratches beyond the surface. No doubt the absence of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who wrote the first two movies, are sorely missed.

Steve Zahn's Bad Ape brings a comic relief in WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

Another missed opportunity here is Woody Harrelson's potentially memorable performance as The Colonel. He even goes as far as trying to emulate Marlon Brando's iconic role of Colonel Kurtz in APOCALYPSE NOW. While casting Harrelson in such a role is a smart move, it's just too bad he turns out to be a bland antagonist. Looks like the only human actor worth mentioning here is Amiah Miller, who brings a genuine warmth and sweet-natured innocence to her mute Nova character.

As for the apes, it was Andy Serkis once again who delivers the most. His motion-capture performance is soulful as usual. But no matter how hard Serkis gives his all in portraying Caesar as a scarred character burdened with loss and pain, he is unfortunately bound by the surface-level storytelling. Serkis' Caesar certainly deserves better, especially given the fact this is his concluded chapter in the trilogy.

Should there be a future instalment in the PLANET OF THE APES rebooted series, here's hoping they can come up with a better movie the next time around.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is visually breathtaking and the CGI apes are amazingly lifelike as ever, but the drab storytelling coupled with a sluggish pace prevents this movie elevating into a level of greatness.

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