War of the Planet of the Apes
Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval
While they will likely continue serving installments of this franchise as long as it makes money. “War for the Planet of the Apes”, number three in the reboot, is for all intents and purposes the end of the “Rise/Dawn” trilogy. Since the story began back in 2011, Caesar (animated and voiced by Andy Serkis) has always been the lead character, a genetically modified ape, against war and brutality. The film is titled “War”, so obviously tragedy must occur to get the peace promoting king of the apes seeking revenge so badly that war becomes inevitable. The visual accomplishments in this series by WETA, continue to be the series focal highlight. The boundaries they push here with motion capture are award worthy. The story and plot, not so much. I found this film, entirely from the perspective of the apes, disengaging and often tiresome.
Caesar sends surviving soldiers back to their leader, hoping for peace, following an attack on the makeshift ape village in the mountains. Unfortunately, the trust and honor he once knew among humans is long gone. Caesar’s pack is attacked again, cutting his family deeper than he has ever known. In this moment Caesar finally understands late friend and eventual enemy Koba’s hate and unwillingness to forgive. With his most trusted friends by his side, he sets out to find the leader of this military unit and destroy any human involved in the brutal attack. Colonel (Harrelson) will do anything to stop the remaining humans from contracting a disease that leaves people without voices. He and his army have created a prison camp for apes, building a wall to stop a disagreeing military headed his way.
Knowledge of the previous films is imperative for this third installment to carry any weight.
The opening credits with the immersive sounds of still wildlife leads us into a very quiet film. This isn’t the “War” you might have expected. “Rise” was a film about humans and one ape. ‘Dawn’ it was half of each battling for control. This time Harrelson is essentially the only human on screen. Caesar speaks very good English at this point in his experience, but others still use their native grunt and or sign language to communicate, making “War” a nearly silent film. That’s why so much attention can and should be paid to Michael Giacchino’s score. The composer returns from his work on “Dawn” and while the first half of the film has a beautiful, albeit formulaic tune to it, the later part of the score is less memorable.
One thing that makes “War” less engaging than the previous is the confinement in which the story keeps all the characters in one spot. Since all the characters are now apes played by motion capture actors, the necessity of green screen keeps us from the extensive travel or movement in the previous films. As someone who found their love for cinema through the performance of an actor, it’s difficult to get that effect here, even with the brilliance of WETA’s motion capture. Knowledge of the previous films is imperative for this third installment to carry any weight. “War” doesn’t hold up as its own film, and even as someone who saw the previous two, I found any emotion or empathy very difficult here despite how hard director Matt Reeves hammered it in.
The trilogy’s least engaging installment.