War For the Planet Of The Apes (2017) (a film review by Mark R. Leeper).

July 18, 2017 | By | Reply More

Four years after the war started in the last ‘Planet Of The Apes’ film, Caesar, an intelligent ape, wants to end the fighting. But first he wants vengeance on the leader of a paramilitary organisation who killed Caesar’s wife and son. Director Matt Reeves looks not so much for a realistic war but for an allegory that examines human slavery and concentration camps, placing them on the planet of the apes. There are some big holes in the logic and the story drags too long, but the film still seems to be an audience pleaser.

Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10.

‘War For The Planet Of The Apes’ is the third instalment in the rebooted ‘Planet Of The Apes’ series. As the film begins we jump to four years after the last film, ‘Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes’ (2014), ended. As a ‘Planet Of The Apes’ tradition, this film is not actually about what the title says, a war for the planet. It is about a single engagement. In fact, that is one problem with the script. Everything happens within what might be a hundred miles or less from everything else that happens. We have no idea what is happening in China. For that matter, we have no idea what is happening in Los Angeles, not more than a few weeks’ walk away.

Peace advocate Caesar is reluctantly fighting in the skirmishes against humans and, at the same time, is trying to broker a peace agreement. Just when he was pulling out of the war, he gets pulled back in like Michael Corleone. Caesar finds out that his wife and son have been killed by a paramilitary group called Alpha-Omega that is led by someone calling himself the Colonel. Caesar decides to put any peace plans on hold while he goes off to kill the Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson) and, if possible, to de-fang the whole Alpha-Omega. For a creative film series, this plot is REALLY, REALLY too much of a cliché. The ‘I-want-peace-but-first-I- want-vengeance’ plot has long been a yawner.

Do not go to this film expecting a rousing good adventure. The story would be grim on a sunny day and there are no sunny days in this film. Every scene seems gray and most are dismal. By now, Andy Serkis probably sleeps in his motion-capture doodads because he wears them through so much of his life. Do not expect the level of animal realism he had in ‘King Kong’. His face is believable as an ape’s face, but his posture and gait are of human-in-ape-suit quality and not chimpanzee. In keeping with the grimness of the film he has what looks like a perpetual scowl on his face. He is not a happy camper even in the Muir Woods scenes at the beginning. There is some attempt here to tell how came about the world of the original 1968 ‘Planet Of The Apes’ film. Perhaps this film closes the loop.

There are multiple languages that apes use to communicate: English, sign-language and ape-language and the film does not seem to be consistent with who speaks what and who understands what. Of course, not thinking out the logic of who speaks or understands what is a long tradition of ‘Planet Of The Apes’ writing. This goes all the way back to when Taylor heard the first ape speaking English and did not question how the knowledge of English language came to the planet. With ‘War For The Planet Of The Apes’, the language problem could have been corrected but not without substantial reliance on multi-language sub-titles and sub-titles could have damaged the box office take. The battles are realistically and mind-numbingly staged and fierce enough to leave the viewer ragged.

At 140 minutes, this film drags on at least twenty minutes too long. Some scenes just seem to go on and on without adding to the plot. There is an old adage for filmmakers that says, ‘Show your audience, don’t tell them’. If director Matt Reeves wanted a 140 minute film he could have done it better than avoiding the long scenes in which Caesar talks with the Colonel or another ape and is told what happened to his family.

Reeves TELLS events in the plot but SHOWS battle scenes that only advance the plot slowly. There is just too much time with nothing happening in the storyline. Reeves does manage to get some more interest-value into his ape characters than previous films in the series have had. There are also some little references to other films, both in the ‘Planet Of The Apes’ series and not. Reeves would have done well to trim this effort down to under two hours, but it still develops the apes more than previous films. I rate ‘War For The Planet Of The Apes’ a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Mark R. Leeper

© Mark R. Leeper 2017

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Category: Films, MEDIA, Scifi

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