GOOD But Could’ve Been Better. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) Review

War for the Planet of the Apes isn’t exactly the film I was hoping it would be but with its great characters and plot, it’s almost as good as its predecessor.

Caesar and his apes have suffered terrible losses while fighting against the army of humans led by Colonel McCullough. Devastated by the fatalities, Caesar embarks on a quest for vengeance while the rest of his people journey to a distant haven. However, during his quest Caesar discovers that his people were captured by the humans as they were travelling and are being used as slaves at the humans’ base. Now, with a handful of other apes, Caesar must free his people from McCullough’s vicious regime.

War for the Planet of the Apes pic
The feelings were mixed.

The Characters

The characters in these films just keep getting better and better. In War, the strongest and most compelling characters, for me, have to be Caesar and Colonel McCullough.

Caesar experiences a real struggle in the narrative. Unlike the previous films where he battled exterior forces, Caesar battles his own heart and desires. He’s been emotionally scarred by the war and has an intense desire to kill the colonel. At the same time however, he is aware that if he gives in to hatred he’ll become like Koba (the xenophobic, warmongering chimp from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). You understand Caesar’s situation and you want to see if he’ll realise his vengeful desires or not.

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[Credit: Fox]
The colonel is a brutal and frightening antagonist. He treats the apes with no sympathy whatsoever, forcing them to work with no food or water. Despite Caesar’s attempts at rebellion, McCullough stands firm and oppresses all resistance. He’s more threatening than Koba in Dawn yet unlike Koba, he has a clear, sympathetic motive. McCullough knows of Caesar’s intelligence and that the possibility of humanity going extinct and apes becoming the dominant species is real. So he does everything he has to, from starving his ape slaves to killing his own men, to ensure humanity’s survival. He’s a powerful antagonist that you both understand and despise.

The Plot

After seeing Dawn, I was expecting War to depict the humans and apes as equal opposing forces. The first two films showed how the apes evolved and rebelled against their human masters, so the third film should show the apes fighting humanity as an equally powerful faction over control of the planet.

The film isn’t about that. War focuses on the apes’ attempts to escape the base. The plot is reminiscent of many escape films like Bridge on the River Kwai and Chicken Run (bizarre comparison, I know). The film puts the apes in an oppressed position, which is something we’ve already seen in Rise of the Planet of the Apes as well as previous Ape films. Hence with this being the third film in the series I was expecting something a bit more original.

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The colonel (Woody Harrelson) about to punish Caesar (Andy Serkis). [Credit: Fox]
Despite the familiar premise however, the plot for War is still very engaging. Like most escape films, a lot of the tension comes from seeing whether the apes can plan an escape without getting caught. There’s also some tension in seeing whether the apes will survive under McCullough’s regime with no food and water. It’s good for what it is but at the same time it could’ve been something so much more epic and original.

“Bad Ape”

Within the first act a chimpanzee called “Bad Ape” is introduced to Caesar’s group. He’s a bit of a hermit and is very clumsy due to his limited experience of the world. He is the comic relief of the film.

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Steve Zahn as “Bad Ape” [Credit: Fox]
I think Rise and Dawn established a serious and mature tone for the series. Now Bad Ape doesn’t ruin the film as his role is quite minor and I did actually find a couple of his scenes amusing. However, I think in relation to the rest of the film he feels very out of place and inappropriate.

While the familiar premise and comic relief make the film lesser than what it could’ve been, the engrossing plot and amazing characters make War for the Planet of the Apes a solid film and a great entry in the series.

I give War for the Planet of the Apes a strong 7 out of 10.

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