Two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, war has finally taken over the relationship between apes and humans, with humans struggling to stay relevant in an ape-ruled world. When Caesar’s family is murdered by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a soldier determined to keep the earth for the humans, Caesar sets out to enact his revenge, putting all apes in danger as he does so.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes had issues, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had a Shakespearean feel, and this final instalment in the trilogy – War for the Planet of the Apes – brings the action back to a small scale, but is such a tonal mess that it is hard to tell whether War is meant to be funny after all.
Andy Serkis returns as Caesar, making the character rounded and the most relatable of the film. The rest of the cast features Karin Konoval, Steve Zahn, Terry Notary, Toby Kebbel and Ty Olsson on the apes side, with Amiah Miller playing newcomer Nova, and Woody Harrelson as The Colonel who happily chews through any scenery he happens to be put in front of. The performances in the film often struggle, as the cast never quite manage to come to terms with the messy tone that plagues the film.
Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves’ screenplay has the apes and the humans not even trying to come to terms with one another, but constantly fighting in a bid to survive. After a siege tale, for some unknown reason, the film quickly turns into a road movie before becoming a captivity story with some heavy handed religious allegory. The tone of the film is literally all over the place; Steve Zahn’s talkative ape – known as Bad Ape – was obviously created for the sake of comic relief, but is about as subtle as dropping an awkwardly timed anvil into a dramatic scene, meaning the scenes end up being funny for all the wrong reasons. As well as this, it is still difficult to relate to the apes as characters, as we are never given a chance to get to know them other than what they look like. The religious allegory is incredibly heavy handed throughout War for the Planet of the Apes, with the audience never even being given a chance to make up their own minds about Caesar before being bashed over the head with a Christ metaphor.
As director, Matt Reeves never manages to get the pacing of the film right, meaning the road movie and prison break segments are both long and drawn out, with questions being raised and never addressed again. Add to this the tonal issues, characters being introduced for no apparent reason and some seriously heavy handed and unintentionally comedic scenes, and War for the Planet of the Apes turns into a parody of the franchise that spawned it.
In all, War for the Planet of the Apes is a tonal mess, unintentionally hilarious in all the wrong places, drawn out and painfully long. Woody Harrelson just about saves the day as his ridiculously over the top, Immortan Joe-esque Colonel, but the rest of just background noise. Nice to see the technology has caught up with the scope of the film however, with the CGI Apes being wonderfully realised, with eyes that seem alive for the first time ever.