Directed by Matt Reeves (2017)
by Benjamin Leonard, Best Boy
Even though I enjoyed their campiness, I wasn’t a huge fan of the original 1960s and 1970s Planet of the Apes films. I appreciated the nihilistic messages for social equality and against war. The concept that “humanity” and “humane treatment” are in the eye of the beholder (or species) has stayed with me throughout my life. But the movies just don’t hold up to repeated viewings.
The only lasting impression from Tim Burton’s 2001 attempt at a remake was that I was extremely disturbed by the fact that I found the ape version of Helena Bonham Carter more attractive than the regular one. Other than that, the movie was terrible, filled with mediocre acting and boring.
So when the new series of films kicked off in 2011 with Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I wasn’t expecting much. With a cast consisting of James Franco and John Lithgow, the high point was the knowledge that Andy Serkis would be the actor behind the movements of Caesar, the lead ape. Brian Cox is in the mix too, but it’s not a big enough role to get excited about. However, I ended up really enjoying it. Franco turned in a good performance and the story really held my interest. It did a good job of entertaining while commenting on big business and pharmaceutical companies.
In 2014 the series returned with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Rupert Wyatt was replaced with Matt Reeves as director and Mark Bomback came in to do rewrites replacing Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. The story and pacing was still good. It moved from a classic sci-fi format into the adventure realm. Social commentary was still present. I was surprised to enjoy this one just as much as the first.
Now Reeves and Bomback have returned (and given ample time to develop it together) with War for the Planet of the Apes and perhaps my expectations were a little too high, but I think it’s missing something without any involvement from the original team. It’s right there in the title, but I feel like this fell too heavily into the war/drama genre and I just got bored. There really isn’t much more to it than being a story of one man’s (ape’s) battle against the insanity of war.
I liked the look of the movie. With many of the ape actors returning, most of the motion capture looks great. The CGI and locations were seamless and captivating. I could honestly go on and on about how great this movie looked, but it’s still not enough to hold my attention.
Outside of the appearance, I think the best move made in the production was the casting of Woody Harrelson as The Colonel, a Colonel Kurtz-styled madman driven to the brink by a personal tragedy…but the character stinks. It has so much potential, and you’re just let down over and over again. In learning his back-story, he just talks for five minutes or so. What he is saying is important, but you know what? This is a movie! Don’t TELL me what happened, SHOW ME!
Steve Zahn, a guy I usually love in movies, falls completely flat. His character was another opportunity for greatness squandered. There is no other point but to be the comic relief and he’s not even funny. Also, his is the only ape character to have noticeably bad motion capture.
The social commentary seems lacking this time out too. Sure war sucks, but there’s a million better movies out there telling me that. How does war affect those involved? I couldn’t tell you because all of the character interactions felt forced and disjointed. Maybe they are setting up the characters for future stories, but I feel it hurt this movie. This is becoming a regular problem in Hollywood: universe building at the expense of the film that is right in front of you.
All of this to say, I didn’t hate the movie. It’s just a far cry from the first two. It’s probably best as viewed in a marathon situation. Go see them in the one-day pre-release event or watch them all on video at home but don’t set your expectations too high like I did.