The reboot of the Planet of the Apes film franchise has been one of the greatest cinematic gems of the past decade. Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes both gave us stunning visuals and brilliantly methodical storytelling while also delivering an iconic central character in Andy Serkis’ Caesar. Telling the story of Alzheimer’s testing leading to the advent of super intelligent apes and a subsequent virus that begins wiping out humanity, the preceding films have set a high bar that Director Matt Reeves hopes to maintain with this latest entry.
War for the Planet of the Apes finds Caesar continuously attempting to protect his family and ape colony from one of the last human armies. Led by a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson), this human army wants to use the apes as slaves and has used fear to coax several apes into betraying their species. Old, and broken from his years of fighting against the humans, Caesar must come to terms with his own anger and guilt to win one final battle and free his kind.
As The Dark Knight Rises taught us, sometimes a good movie can feel a bit disappointing when it doesn’t live up to the heights of its predecessors. That is the case here, where poor pacing and a bit of a retread plot make War not quite as spectacular as Rise and Dawn. There are several moments that are incredibly slow and lack the tension that was so captivating in Dawn between Caesar and Toby Kebbell’s Koba. Even Woody Harrelson’s colonel lacks the conviction to make him more pertinent than Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus, despite an equally grandiose performance.
But aside from those few lulls in the narrative and the somewhat predictable conclusion, there is a lot to like about War for the Planet of the Apes. The characters, particularly the apes, are still what make these stories interesting and thought provoking. Caesar’s trusted orangutan adviser Maurice (Karin Konoval) brings endearment to the story by adopting a mute human girl (Amiah Miller). A zoo chimpanzee known as Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) brings some wholesome comic relief. As for Caesar, he is still the brilliant, strong willed revolutionary we’ve come to enjoy, but the flaws created for his character in this film actually manage to paint a more soulful picture for the weary leader.
It’s hard not to have high expectations when you’re following near perfection. And in that sense, War might leave some wanting more. But just because the filmmakers couldn’t ante up Caesar’s story arc doesn’t mean that they didn’t craft an enjoyable film, filled with the same thought provoking concepts, character driven emotion, and brilliant visuals that captured audiences in the first place.
FINAL GRADE: B