Reboots and remakes have a negative reputation, and with good reason. Revived properties tend to pale in comparison to their predecessors or just fucking suck and insult their source materials. Surprisingly, the Planet of the Apes reboot/prequel trilogy remained a consistent exception to the rule, and this legacy is carried on in War for the Planet for the Apes.
Two years after the events of Dawn for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his loyal apes are on the run from a ruthless soldier known as “The Colonel” (Woody Harrelson). After a brutal attack from the Colonel’s forces inflicts heavy casualties on Caesar’s followers, the messianic ape embarks on the path of vengeance that will decide which race of sentient mammals will inherit the planet.
Given the glowing reception of the previous installments (Rise and Dawn), the overall good quality of War seemed like a no-brainer. What people weren’t expecting, though, was for War to not only be a grand finale but to be one of the best fucking blockbusters made in recent memory.
No Monkeying Around
An issue with the previous Apes prequel movies was their misguided focus. The real stars of these movies were Caesar and the other apes, but for some fucking reason, the prequels paid too much attention to the flat human stereotypes walking around in the background. The apes were well-developed characters who evoked so much emotion through body language. Despite their limited vocabulary, they had a lot more interesting shit to say and do when compared to the boring human characters who only existed to be generic dumbasses or assholes.
War corrects theis by giving an entire movie to Caesar and the apes, allowing them to relish the spotlight that was previously denied of them. This gives Serkis and the other talented motion-capture actors behind the apes their time to shine, as the fledging ape society is realized with incredible acting and visual effects. In contrast, the few speaking human characters are forced to up their game and be more than just cardboard cut-outs. Thankfully, characters like the Colonel are compelling and memorable, since they make the most of their limited screen time.
The worst that could be said about the cast of War is that they’re all based on stereotypes. Anyone who’s seen enough post-apocalyptic movies would know how each character would act and behave, making certain arcs, events and deaths predictable. Archetypes such as the perfect leader, a plucky comic relief, a saintly child, an evil fucking military man, and others are present, but War shows them in such a way that they feel both justified and relevant to the story – a rare feat that most modern lazy blockbusters don’t even bother trying to do.
Humans Suck: As Written by Humans
From the start, prequels to Planet of the Apes (1968) were something I didn’t take kindly to. This was because the ambiguity behind mankind’s fall and ape-kind’s rise was an appeal all on its own, and any explanation to these events would take away the themes and mystery of the setting. All that was known in the Apes franchise is that mankind somehow killed itself and became stupid before the ape bystanders took over.
The prequels tied the histories of both races together and claimed that humanity was wiped out by some virus born from a faulty vaccine that gave humans the flu but granted apes intelligence. These films blamed humanity’s demise on mankind’s scientific progress and the apes’ natural biology, implying that humankind was too altruistic and idealistic for its own good – thus betraying the nihilistic central theme of the Apes series where humans were simply too fucking stupid to live. Thankfully, War brings this old theme back and returns to the franchise’s pessimistic yet thought-provoking roots.
Without giving away too much, humanity’s end in War is more cathartic than dramatic, and the apes’ rise is the only logical conclusion. The previous installments tried to justify that apes were better than humans by pitting the best apes against the blandest and/or shittiest humans, and this “moral” argument fell flat on its face. This time around, the apes don’t give a fuck about the destructive humans, and the races’ respective, eventual fates becomes more apt and poignant as a result. War felt like an old-school Apes movie rather than a generic post-apocalyptic movie, and this is a return to form that’s greatly appreciated.
This Damn, Dirty Ape War
War could be considered an experimental blockbuster thanks to its approach to the usual action-packed summer movie formula and its reliance on digital apes with basic vocabulary as its protagonists, and these risks paid off spectacularly. Not only does War provide a perfect ending to the competent prequels and serve as a fitting lead to the original movies, but it stands as one of the best blockbuster movies made in recent memory.
Visually stunning, smart and better than a prequel movie has any right to be, War is the heady kind of blockbuster movie that has been sorely absent from the movie landscape for the longest time. Blockbuster movies should be entertaining, but they shouldn’t just be forgettable popcorn fodder where shit explodes to no end. War for the Planet of the Apes, on the other hand, proves that blockbusters can still have their napalm fetish and jokes about literal monkey shit while leaving audiences with a lot to think about.
For more, check out the links below.