The new Apes saga has been a slow burner. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was, all round, an OK start to this trilogy, The stakes were raised in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, creating a harsh environment where the apes were organised and able to take over, placing humanity into hiding. Into the third film and we have War for the Planet of the Apes whereby the apes are the dominant species and the humans are fighting for their survival.
Looking across the three films it shows a slow turn around from human centric attention in the first film, a fairly even split between the humans and apes in the second, through to almost entirely ape-centred in the third. I suppose this allows the whole ethos of the Apes trilogy to be followed as the apes ascend and develop and as humanity recedes under increasing pressures. As good as that premise and depiction is, this final film failed to capture the excitement and tension that the previous film did (even with the main human characters lacking the emotion or gravitas of Caesar and Koba) and with a title including the word War you would also expect their to be, like, more fighting and stuff. Not so it would seem, falling behind Dawn in terms of combat and especially strife.
The opening scene is fantastic, a real introduction to War but then it isn’t held on to. That beginning is let go and the story turns Caesar into a kind of Moses, leading his people to freedom with some revenge elements added in to try to keep the war focus up. The problem with this structure is that it takes too long to re-engage between the humans and the apes and by the time it had I had lost interest in what was happening with either side. The human-ape clashes are the highlight, the tempo and tension is raised whenever it happens but this happens all too seldom. I’m not saying that the apes aren’t interesting but the interactions between ape and human are the best part of this film and when large swathes of it are just following the apes as they travel then it loses that impetus. Add to this a lack of development to the characters (Harrelson’s Colonel gets hardly any development at all and he is the highlight of the human cast, Caesar gets the most of the story as is expected but all the rest of the apes are disposable it seems apart from Maurice). The addition of the comedic Bad Ape wasn’t needed at all, in fact it had the opposite effect on me as it detracted from the seriousness of the storyline, dragging me out of the film.
When we finally get to the long built up end-battle it lacked the urgency and demoralisation that the opening scene did. It was all over too soon and didn’t provide any tension as it played out in a seemingly un-convoluted way.
The special effects throughout were high quality as you would expect from a blockbuster film such as this (although I did have an issue with the gorilla riding the horse. Surely the horse would be straining a bit more with that huge lump riding on its back than with a chimp? No? Just me?). The locations involved were spectacular from the forests and mountains to the coast to the frozen snow covered landscape and all filmed superbly well.
As a trilogy, these Apes films have been a decent one, the highlight definitely being Dawn, and unfortunately War didn’t live up to it, leaving me feeling slightly disappointed when it was all over.