Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

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War for the Planet of the Apes is a bludgeoning film of empty, and meaningless metaphors wrapped up in the clothing of presumed depth. It’s the sort of picture that feigns profundity, but instead, collapses under the weight of its misguided imagery.

Set fifteen years after the outbreak of the plague that wiped out a significant amount of the human population: the narrative depicts Caesar (Andy Serkis) seeking vengeance for the brutal slaughter of his wife and child at the hands of a mythical figure known as The Colonel. (Woody Harrelson) The choice comes at the cost of his tribe who are making a long journey beyond the desert for a new promised land.

Predominantly, the story could be read as a loose adaptation of the Exodus tale. However, the interpretation has little validity because Caesar never feels like a Moses figure and the other facets of the story lack shading. The Ape leader eventually tracks the lionised military figure to a far distant base and finds out that his tribe have been placed under bondage in a labour camp. The Colonel requests the collected group to build a wall.

However, there is never any reason for this demand, and instead, the plot point comes across as an overt post-Trumpian reference without story driven significance, let alone evoking the Exodus. The general problem with War is that its metaphors are empty and do not say anything about the characters in the picture.

There is some Christ imagery in the picture as Caesar is strung to a cross. But it begs the question: what does the character have to atone for? He is just one Ape; his tribe could have easily have been captured with or without him.

Likewise, the American national anthem being played while soldiers beat up and whip a number of the Apes is indicative in suggesting that Slavery has pervaded America’s past. But equating an entire race to the Apes’ plight is too edgy that it ceases to become subversive and instead is objectionable.

Despite all this, there are some undeniably powerful moments in the picture. A confrontation between the Colonial and Caesar in the middle of the film is potent in illustrating the struggle between both figures.

Serkis is particularly striking in his withered stillness that evokes the weight of his revenge filled heart and the burden of the countless years as the leader of his people. Debate rages on about whether or not CGI motion capture work can be considered a performance. As ever, Serkis makes the discussion moot with his impressive acting in this third instalment.

Director Matt Reeves injects the proceedings with a sumptuous grandiosity. With the use of widescreen framing, Reeves portrays sprawling desolation that carries beauty and weight. Though no shot in War compares to the memorable and stirring imagery of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, i.e., the extreme close up of Caesar’s eyes and the 360 degrees shot in the tank.

Crucially, the film is at odds with itself. The title implies a finale soaked in bloody battle, but instead, the picture delivers a belaboured and pretentious skirmish that ultimately feels inconsequential.

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About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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