Review: War for the Planet of the Apes – Monkey melodrama

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War for the Planet of the ApesIt’s been almost 50-years since the first Planet of the Apes film came out and I’ve been a big fan for the entire ride, including the television series and cartoon series in the seventies, and the multiple comic book stories from over the past several decades.

I’ve loved the POTA prequel reboot that started in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is, simply put, one of the most incredible films I’ve ever seen. All that said, the latest POTA adventure, War for the Planet of the Apes, is spectacular simian cinema to be sure, but not quite as awesome as its predecessor.

There is a lot to love in this new film, and I’ll get to that, but it goes a little wonky with its script, with a handful of unforced errors and an overabundance of monkey melodrama. There are plenty of overly dramatic human scenes as well, because, you know, humans.

The story picks up a couple of years after the ape-human war began, at the end of Dawn, and things have not fared well for the apes, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), the original, genetically enhanced, talking ape we were introduced to in Rise, and who we know from the ape history that was revealed in the original POTA films.

The apes suffer a devastating loss at the hand of the Alpha & Omega human militant group, led by Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), who sort of apes Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now; and that’s not the only movie that WFTPOTA borrows from.

You’ll see shades of a half dozen classic war and western films – which is a compliment and kind of fun – until the filmmakers feel the need to spell their homage out, literally and right in your face. Come on guys, not necessary.

Caesar heads out on a journey to take revenge on McCullough and his humans, and he’s followed by his loyal friends Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Rocket (Terry Notary), whom you should remember from the previous films in the prequel series.

War for the Planet of the ApesAlong their trek the small band of apes pick up a couple of extras, including a mysterious human girl (Amiah Miller) and an eccentric chimp who identifies himself in the way his previous human handlers did, as Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who has a severe hoarding problem. Zahn easily steals every scene he’s (motion captured) in.

The apes and the humans, of course, violently confront each other, but, as the theme of all the POTA films goes, the humans are always their own worst enemy; and like all of the films in the series, this one symbolically reflects our world’s current state of craziness.

The special effects in WFTPOTA are first rate and completely believable, which is great, but, I think, this might also be part of the reason for the extra fat in this film. It must be difficult to cut a scene after you’ve spent a ton of money on special effects, and there is definitely a need to trim some of the movie’s dramatic sequences that seem to go on ad nauseam.

Like the Dawn film, cinematographer Michael Seresin brings his A(pe)-game to WFTPOTA, with amazingly epic visuals that will forever be etched in my mind’s eye – they are so cool. This film is also a real treat for cinephiles in that there are lots of Easter eggs and tributes to other movies, and part of the fun is going to be catching them and identifying them.

Despite a few minor complaints, War for the Planet of the Apes is a thoughtful and worthy addition to the Planet of the Apes franchise and a noble tribute to apekind in general. I can’t wait to watch it again. Grade: 8/10

Photos Copyright © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation


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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.