War for the Planet of the Apes: Evocative storyline, but slow as ape compost
Despite the great acting and stunning visuals, this film is so drawn-out that the actors were at risk of devolving into apes
I will give the latest in the Apes trilogy this much: Everything about it is intense. Like really, really, really intense. So intense that, after a point, and this is merely a suspicion, Andy Serkis (who plays Alpha smart-chimp Caesar) might have started scratching non-existent facial hair with a perennial frowny-face when at dinner with the kids.
That's what's great about this movie. Unfortunately, it's also what makes it a drag. There are so many intensely drawn out moments, playing on the many emotions that the apes go through, that even the cheesiest of comic elements - in this case, an unusually conversant zoo-escaped monkey called Bad Ape - provide unusual relief. Almost all through its 140 minute runtime.Bittersweet, eh?
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller
Director: Matt Reeves
If you've worked your way through Dawn... and Rise..., which were the prequels to this now-concluded trilogy (one can hope), then War... may not be the ending you may have hoped for. For starters, it's even further removed from human reality that the previous movie was. The world the apes inhabit is now your garden variety post-apocalyptic scene, with the virus having wiped out what appears to be the majority of the human race. The apes are hiding out in the woods, going forth and multiplying and doing their family thing, while an army called the Alpha-Omega (who for some unnaturally anti-national reason have the scientific symbols of the Alpha and Omega inscribed on the Star Spangled Banner, and have graffiti with bad ape jokes all over) is hunting them down.
Faced with swift and violent extinction, an attack that wipes out most of Caesar's family pushes the otherwise sensible chimp into a revenge mission. His target is the army's chieftain - very unmysteriously called the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). To make sure he makes it back alive, the old band from the first movie is back for a reunion tour, horses, rifles et al.
Harrelson, who has been astonishingly entertaining in the Hunger Games movies, is given way too serious a task, too broody and depressive a character here to really make an impression. It's a pity he didn't get to crack even the odd one liner. Would have been a whole lot more entertaining.
Andy Serkis never ceases to amaze me every time he plays Caesar. It's just astonishing that he makes motion capture and cinematography look that great, that convincing, and so uncannily chimp-like, without ever making you wonder where the VFX guys began and ended. That's just astonishingly good acting. The scenes that involve his rediscovery of the goodness and innocence of the human race - through a mute child that he orphaned and then was forced to take along on his revenge raid - are poignant, but decidedly drawn out.
If all those intricately crafted moments, and I call them intricate because large swathes of the film involve apes communicating with sign language, and effectively no voices, had been combined with the action and aesthetic that made the previous two movies work, then War... would have been an infinitely more enjoyable watch. Turning down the insanely heavy dose of predictability through the movie would have also been great, because there are so many scenes where you know what's coming next that you don't even take the effort to say 'spoiler alert'.
Inevitably, War... twists itself into a survival-of-the-fittest scenario. And these scenarios are fraught with important questions that the viewer must look within and ponder over to answer honestly.
Will it be the apes? Or will the humans survive? Will both of them make it? Will the apes turn into humans? Will the humans turn into apes? Will Andy Serkis get to play a human again without scratching himself inappropriately? Will you stay awake?
Go watch this film and you'll find the answers to all of these queries, except the last. That's something only time will tell.