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There's an awful lot to admire in War for the Planet of the Apes, just as there is for its two predecessors. It concludes an intelligent saga that (like Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy) stands as an original and grown up take on a beloved mythology. And like its predecessors, War boasts impeccable production values, impressive performances, superb filmmaking and cinematography, strong action, and absolutely jaw-dropping visual effects and motion capture.
Why then (to paraphrase one negative review) was I so bored?
War is a long film, and for much of the runtime, incredibly slow. That in itself isn't normally a problem for me, if I'm invested in the story and engrossed by the script. The fact that I wasn't tells me the storytelling here is the weakest aspect of the whole enterprise. Quite simply, we've seen it all before. Stories about oppression and slavery are ten a penny. We've seen holocaust films before, we've seen prison break films before, we've seen mad-general films before. And we've seen all the clichés that go with them.
Have we been conned? Is this just another re-run of those but with a simian skin? Sadly, that's how it felt and even the incredible performance of Andy Serkis and the world class CGI can't disguise it. I wanted to see a flourishing ape society with its own mores and customs (as opposed to apes behaving like humans), I wanted to see a global struggle for supremacy. I wanted to see characters face moral challenges, with three-dimensional characters on both sides. And I wanted to see War, on a scale that would tip the balance in favour of one side…
Instead we get a predictable revenge plot, dull quest, earnest but shallow ruminations, and a second and third act that force us to spend the majority of the film inside a military compound, with a Colonel straight out of Apocalypse Now. Is that really where we want to be at the climax of a potentially classic trilogy?
It isn’t all bad news though, and if it sounds that way it’s because I’m paying the franchise the compliment of holding it to a high standard. As mentioned, Matt Reeves’ has made a film that looks and sounds impeccable with Revenant-like cinematography and Michael Giacchino’s impressive percussion-heavy score. Andy Serkis’ Caesar remains a superb character, incredibly realised by both the actor and Weta Digital. The opening act is actually superb, a powerful start that ends in tragedy. The climax is also impressive (if predictable) and ends on a satisfactory if not wholly satisfying note. Humans are thin on the ground, which is good, but there’s a decent subplot involving a young girl that I enjoyed and added to the story. Steve Zahn’s ‘Bad Ape’ is also a decent addition and although he straddles the line between entertaining and irritating, he just about comes down on the right side. He provides some badly needed comic relief, and like Caesar, is incredibly well rendered. Woody Harrelson’s performance is enjoyable too, even though his character is a walking cliché.
All in all then, a well-made movie with ostensibly everything you could want from this franchise; sadly hamstrung by routine storytelling and an excruciating pace.