THREE STARS In a post-apocalyptic world, Caesar is trying to lead ape-kind to safety. First he has to deal with a troublesome unit of defiant soldiers.
Starring Woody Harrelson and Andy Serkis
This third and final outing for the apes pitches man and monkey in an ultimate battle for survival. Not for the planet so much, but certainly for one of the last habitable patches of land in their newly evolving world. A curious hybrid of APOCALYPSE NOW and EXODUS, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is a suitable finale for a would-be franchise that seemingly had its pin pulled before its time. After all, there were seven in the original series and this story of Caesar the Ape still had some way to go before crashing into an angry Charlton Heston.
Back to the apocalypse and a rogue group of soldiers have isolated themselves from the rest of humanity. Led by Woody Harrelson, they still have the capacity to talk where most of humanity, has been struck by an unknown disorder and is turning mute (ironically, just as the apes are learning to speak). Woody plans to keep his people safe and that involves seizing Caesar’s patch. Cue chaos, battle and war.
There’s no underestimating the success of director Matt Reeves' vision – WAR, for a film largely generated inside a box, is a thing of beauty. His CGI creatures led by CGI staple Andy Serkis (Gollum, LORD OF THE RINGS) move effortlessly and convincingly around the screen. Similarly, the over-arching themes of man’s inhumanity in times of dystopia are well fleshed out. What’s lacking is character, the oil that keeps the narrative wheels turning. In a 3D world they’re a 2D bunch who start and end in roughly the same place: Harrelson is mean and short-sighted, Caesar is angry and long-sighted, everyone else falls somewhere in between. Because there’s no tonal, emotional or developmental shift, it reduces the story down to grand gestures propped up by grand scenes.
If that’s enough (I’d argue it isn’t), then WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is a satisfying if undemanding romp. Given the lost opportunity to pin mankind’s hubris to the contemporary, political landscape (which the first APES did so well), WAR comes up short.