The third film in the franchise is a touching and telling addition to the series.
The Planet Of The Apes franchise has always had a good blend of action and character development throughout the franchise. The latest installment comes after the events of the second film with Caesar and his apes reeling after their losses due to betrayal. Caesar no longer wants to continue the war but wants to see an end to the fighting, very much in parallel to the biblical story of Moses wanting to free his people from the tyranny of the Egyptians. As the amazing Andy Serkis has said in interviews, the film is visually beautiful, but I can assure you the film’s true beauty is beneath the great visuals.
A film such as this lives and dies at the director’s hand as it’s more of the story of the character of Caesar rather than the survival of the apes. Much of the movie is prolonged silences and grunts which we interpret through subtitles which makes the director’s role ever more crucial. It’s safe to say Matt Reeves delivers where many others would fail. He manages to deliver the best of both worlds in truly incredible and large battle scenes as well as touching scenes. In many ways, this film could be considered a version of Apocalypse Now with an ape protagonist who hunts down an enigmatic leader, although for personal reasons. Just as the journey drives Martin Sheen’s character to the brink, Caesar is wonderfully tested on different ends of the spectrum. The only issue is that Reeves never does bring that sense of danger to Caesar. That lack of danger is what really prevents Caesar’s character from running the gambit of exploration and bringing this film past the shallowness that accompanies a blockbuster.
The script itself is not that remarkable. It provides adequate tension at key moments, properly foreshadows events, and provides a string of good scenes and no bad scene. However, there are no truly great scenes. Even the demented Colonel, praised as a god like Marlon Brando’s character from Apocalypse Now, seems very tame and sedated in many respects. He only demonstrates a few eccentricities and never steps into a definitive role of maniacal or silent and collective or cold blooded and ruthless. The only character that gets a proper treatment of development is Caesar, but even his character is never seen at full force. The rest of the characters fill a sort of trope and never break the mold of what one would expect. The lack of truly original characters can be overlooked as that is an accomplishment in and of itself, but the real travesty in the script is the sheer number of convenient coincidences that occur. One such coincidence is fair game for any script, especially considering a blockbuster, but several is just crossing the line and makes the plot a little too unbelievable, even considering a world where apes can talk.
The performances throughout the film were solid, but the lack of compelling characters limited where to the characters could go. Woody Harrelson’s performance felt lack luster at times. However, I would chalk that up to a shortcoming of the script. For an eccentric leader, he only had one gear of being very level headed, but in a very sound manner, rather than cold and dangerous.
The performance of each of the apes is where the beauty of this film lies. Andy Serkis delivers like no other can. It’s impossible to imagine someone else surpassing him at acting under the pressure of motion capture. He’s enthralling to watch throughout the film. The long scenes where just the apes are confronted by trials and situations where grunting is the only means of communication with subtitles as the translation, you get these drawing and beautiful scenes. Reeves, similar to a film like La La Land uses music and lighting to tell the story more so than through the use of dialogue in these scenes, bringing an almost modern rendition to the idea of a silent film.
If you’ve been a fan of the series thus far, you’re going to want to see the latest chapter in Caesar’s story. Any cinephile can appreciate the great direction of Reeves and really makes you wonder what he could make given a phenomenal script. It’ll certainly be worth the trip to a theater.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES OPENS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE JULY 14, 2017.