With Rise and Dawn being some of my favourite films in recent years, War for the Planet of the Apes was one of my most highly anticipated films of this year. 2011’s Rise saw a new take on the tired Planet of the Apes films; focusing on the Apes and their journey into predatory dominance as opposed to vilifying them by telling the story from a stranded, human perspective. The films are seen through the eyes of Caesar, who is thrown into a bleak world and just wants safety and peace for ‘apekind’. We have seen this 15 year story told over 3 films now and so the question begs, what does War bring to this trilogy?
The film opens with some Star Wars style, expositional text to give a brief recap of the story so far. I feel this was much needed as had you not watched the previous two entries immediately before seeing War, you would be slightly amiss being thrown straight into the action. On a side note, the text cleverly hushes the debate about the titling of the previous films; with people arguing Rise should in fact come after the Dawn.
First and foremost, the special effects in this film must be commended. Put simply, the Apes look real, and not by standards of CGI, but as if you were watching a documentary. It is breathtaking to believe that all of this is done in post production after motion capture performances. It is a true testament to the skills of the VFX team working on this film as well as the performances from the actors involved. Whilst I don’t want to get into the debate of ‘motion capture being Oscar worthy’, I do think Andy Serkis gives an incredible performance as Caesar. This film at heart is a drama, one told in the eyes of Caesar and if Serkis’ performance isn’t anything less than great, then we aren’t going to connect with an Ape as the main protagonist – let alone for three films. Returning characters such as Maurice (Karin Konoval) also deserve a mention as they are an integral part to the emotional core of the film as well. However, where Koba stole the show in Dawn, War is very much centric to Caesar and Serkis really shines with this extra weight. The character of ‘Bad Ape’, comedically portrayed by Steve Zahn, was also a risky, but welcome addition. Considering the films are such grounded dramas, adding a comic relief character could be a catastrophe (*cough cough* Jar Jar Binks). Despite this, Bad Ape was handled very well, not being too clumsy or stupid, he was a contrasting complement in what is otherwise a sombre war drama.
However, the film’s title is a misleading one. The last two films have been building to this all out war between apes and humans and the name of this film would suggest that this is what we are going to get. But, the war we do get lasts all of 5 minutes and is between two human groups, not apes. This is not a criticism of the film itself as the plotline we do get is engaging but anyone going into this film expecting 90 minutes of apes wielding machine guns is going to be sorely disappointed.
As well as this, although as I say the plot is engaging, it doesn’t warrant a 2 and a half hour runtime. As someone who respects Dawn for being a dramatic film as opposed to mindless action, I am open to just a character scene between two apes. However, although unavoidable, one on one ape communication is done in sign language (besides the majority of Caesar’s dialogue). Whilst in bursts throughout Rise and Dawn this was unnoticable, War involves a lot of reading and this does slow the film way down. This film also suffers from a lot of false momentum; the stretched runtime leads to a lot of scenes that are just ambled through and too long. Every time a scene builds and appears to be leading to some tension or emotional pay off, we are whipped back to a more slow, drawn out resolution which is accompanied from a sigh by the audience. Although a minor gripe, this does happen a few times and I can see it heavily impeding the rewatchability of this film.
All in all, War for the Planet of the Apes is a good film. It manages to capture the raw emotion of its characters for the situation they are in. It may not be the film we promised, but in spite of an exaggerated runtime, is a wonderfully charming, and tear jerking end to what I think is a great trilogy. This is a trio of stories that nobody asked for, but it took an old idea and revitalised it with some incredible characters. If you are a fan of Rise and Dawn, I would definitely recommend going to see this film, but be aware of its false marketing!