War for the Planet of the Apes
War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) – 7.1/10
I must admit that this entry into the contest for summer fantasy blockbusters is better than most, and although I did find it far from satisfying it was certainly worth the viewing, at least once. Despite the fact that the title was a complete misnomer (“Escape from the Planet of the Humans” would be closer to the truth) there was much to be complimented in this production.
Nowadays it goes without saying that the special effects, regardless of their employment, were excellent, and they certainly were here. Extraordinary will have to be left to otherworldly efforts like the creation of the alien world in Avatar. Nevertheless, within the simian world of director Matt Reeves and the 65mm format he used, we are able to see the ironic humanity of the apes through the marriage of the performance graphics effects and the plethora of closeups of the eyes and the faces of the apes. With the superb acting job of Andy Serkis as Caesar, leader of the apes – in my opinion good enough to be worth an Oscar nomination nod – even a xenophobic could relate to their race as one of both intelligence and heart, and could root for them against the race of humans led so inhumanly by the psychopathic “Colonel Kurtz Klone” played Woody Harrelson, who basically dialed in his performance.
The screenplay, co-written by Reeves and by Mark Bomback, was better than most collaborative efforts. It lacked the tightness and consistency of a Coen script, but it set up the conflicts between the races of Apes and Humans as well as that between Serkis’ character Caesar, longing for peace but driven to fight, and Harrelson’s nutso colonel, who continually reminded me of General Custer. It was at least refreshing to see – onscreen – the animals as human and the humans as animals, despite the fact that similar thematic viewpoints have been postulated in science fiction for decades.
Where the flick was a letdown was – as is so common these days – in the ending. It was bad enough when poor Caesar’s revenge was wasted when the colonel uncharacteristically decided it was better to eat a last bullet than to aim it at our furry hero, but it got nauseatingly contrived when a wounded Caesar set off an explosion that predictably chain-reactioned through the entire area, yet despite its proximity somehow left him uninjured as he ran for his wounded life. Perhaps it was a special boom-boom that lacked a shock wave.
But that wasn’t the worst. What was comically unreasonable was watching a literal army of johnny-come-lately bad guy humans, all dressed up completely in white and looking like storm troopers left over from bad Star Wars outtakes, charging up a slope only to be done in en masse by – get this – a bloody tidal wave that roared suddenly over the majestic treetops to wipe the slopes clean of human vermin! It was a plotting non sequitur akin to a deux ex machina from the gods. I was glad I hadn’t eaten before the movie.
With all the bad guys off to la la land and no one to impede the exodus of the apes, Caesar, still wearing the shaft of an arrow in his side, followed his minions through hill and dale to a distant simian paradise. Many tales before this have followed a post-apocalyptic trail to freedom – The Book of Eli and Waterworld come quickly to mind – but none left me as unsatisfied as this one. Bor…ing. Despite the sympathetic character of Caesar Serkis I couldn’t squeeze out a single tear of boo-hoo as he slid gently to his side and expired.
Too bad he’s gone. Now that there’s no way to justify yet another sequel Serkis is going to have to find a whole new alien form to occupy.