There comes a time when every long running film franchise feels tiresome and repetitive. For some, it comes as quickly as the second film in the series is announced, like “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “The Fast and the Furious,” while others have long tern success and have some bad moments sprinkled throughout, like the “Star Trek” film series. And then you have ones that had no business being a franchise in the first place, like Michael Bay’s “Transformers.”
If you look at any movie franchise with three or more entries, you’re sure to find bad moments. The best modern day film trilogy to me is Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” series, even though “The Dark Knight Rises” is filled to the brim with plot holes and does not make any sense if you think about the antagonists’ plan for more than five minutes. But the first two entries are so strong and memorable that they overpower the bad moments in the final installment.
Some would argue that a new trilogy can compete with Nolan’s take on Batman – the recent reboot of “The Planet of the Apes.” I’ll admit this series of films is impressive, if only for their technological achievements in making an vast army of apes come to life and making each one a fleshed-out and realistic character. But after watching “War for the Planet of the Apes,” I’ve realized this series has little going for it outside of the motion capture and Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar. By the end of this film, the franchise has become tiresome.
Set a few years after the events of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” a full-blown war has now broken out between the hyper-intelligent apes, led by Caesar (Serkis), and the remaining military forces. One of those factions, the Alpha Omegas’, led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), launches a surprise attack on the apes home, killing Caesar’s son and wife. Now, Caesar seeks to avenge their deaths and take out the colonel himself, despite the protests of the wise Maurice (Karin Konoval) who says Caesar is becoming more like the treacherous Koba.
As with the previous films, the motion capture technology is spectacular to behold, especially in the larger crowd shots with hundreds of apes in the snowy terrain. I swear there is never this much detail in crowd shots with humans, but to see the vast range of emotions and body language, while also taking note of the fur blown by the wind and snow or the scars on many of the apes is nothing short of impressive. I could stare at this pack of apes trying to escape their icy confines all day and never get tired of it.
But unlike the last film, there is never a standout moment in “War” that makes you appreciate that detail of these effects. In “Dawn” there was a three-minute tracking shot during a pivotal battle sequence, following Koba as he hijacks a tank and we see the vast range of carnage on display. “War” never has that “Wow!” moment that adds to the scope of a world ruled by apes instead of man.
But the biggest disappointment with “War” was its lack of an engaging story. The whole point of this series has been to show how our current world would eventually become a planet where apes evolved from men, and the first two films do this well. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” did this by showing how humans messed everything up in the first place, while the focus of “Dawn” was to show if humans and apes could co-exist peacefully. Even with humanity slowly but surely fading away, the apes remained calm, logical, and emotionally controlled. There was a strong sense of family and warmth that made those scenes with the apes enjoyable, where you could tell that everyone in the camp cares for one another.
“War” does not necessarily try to answer any questions or show something meaningful, only the next step in that escalation. The only humans left now are soldiers, fighting a losing war. The attempts at kindness and peace are gone, and we are at the point where humans would rather solve their problems with a gun.
This is not a bad change, as it does make sense when people are fighting for their way of life against someone they considered animals only a few years ago. But it does remove most of the humanity and heart of this situation. Both sides are forced to fight for most of the film, leaving most of the characters with little to do outside of look stoic or shoot a gun. I ended up feeling more for the humans since they were struggling to survive far more than the apes.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” is like the “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” of the Apes franchise – It’s not necessarily a bad movie, but the previous entry told a far more intriguing story with more fleshed-out characters that this one almost feels empty by comparison. Instead of smaller character building moments or the difficult struggles both the common man and apes must face every day, we get action sequences. They are well-made sequences that ultimately showcase man against nature (in more ways than one), but with so much action and limited story there was little reason to care for this planet of apes.
Final Grade: C+