Main cast: Andy Serkis (Caesar), Steve Zahn (Bad Ape), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Terry Notary (Rocket), Ty Olsson (Red), Sara Canning (Lake), Amiah Miller (Nova), Gabriel Chavarria (Preacher), and Woody Harrelson (The Colonel)
Director: Matt Reeves
War for the Planet of the Apes follows Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, as part of the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, but it can stand alone as the only returning characters are the apes, and they do not dwell too much on events of the past. In fact, they barely rise above stereotypes or nondescript “just being there” space fillers, so viewers can easily catch up even if they haven’t watched the previous movies.
Years after the events in the last movie, Caesar and the apes are holed up in Muir Woods, trying their best to live in peace, while the human military faction Alpha-Omega is doing its best to track Caesar down and, well, put him down. Meanwhile, all is not well among the apes, as disenfranchised ex-followers of the now dead Koba, such as Red, along with several others decide to throw their allegiance to Alpha-Omega to save their own rear ends, even if this means being considered a “donkey” and having to do menial tasks while being subjected to the humans’ bullying and scorn. Things come to a head when a military group, led by the Colonel, succeeds in breaking through the ranks and the Colonel kills Caesar’s wife and eldest son.
Up to that point, the apes have located a potential new home for themselves – a desert-like environment far away from the humans. If you have watched the very first Planet of the Apes movie (the 1968 one), this would be a nice easter egg, as the humans of that movie found themselves in one such environment when they arrived at the said planet. Caesar tells his people to go seek that land even as he single-handedly seeks out the Colonel to avenge his loved ones. Maurice, Lake, and Rocket insist on coming along, and they find along the way a mute human girl (called Nova in the credits, again, another easter egg for those who watched and remembered the 1968 movie) and a hermit chimpanzee who calls himself Bad Ape. Conveniently enough, Bad Ape broke out from the very place that the Colonel and his men are now cooped up at.
This is a smaller-scale movie than the previous one, but it wants to tell a bigger story: the canonization of Caesar as this conflicted, tragic messianic hero to his people – one who gave his all to his people regardless of the cost to ensure their survival. I must admit, it somewhat works, and I feel a bit choked up by the time the credit rolls. However, this movie is mired in so many overused, played out tropes that anyone who has seen movies in the past that featured heroism and sacrifice of noble leaders as well as prison movies will be able to see many things coming from a mile away. Those who die will die, as expected, for predictable reasons and at expected moments too. Those who deserve poetic justice will get theirs, just like how one can foresee early on. Those who would redeem themselves with a noble sacrifice will do just that, with expected results. It is bad enough that things can be very predictable in this movie, but the script makes sure that even the most oblivious members of the audience will catch on, by dropping very obvious foreshadowing long before the events that are foreshadowed drop with the grace of an elephant struck with diarrhea.
It also doesn’t help that this movie lacks a compelling villain. In the previous movie, Koba is an obvious villain, but one with understanding motives. Here, the Colonel is just a cartoon villain. Woody Harrelson does a good job in making his character as despicable as can be, but that character is all ham, more Looney Tunes than anything else. There are also some obvious plot holes and lapses in logic, the big one being how security in the military encampment/ape prison can be hilariously lax when the plot calls for it. I especially love how Nova can simply walk into that place and practically throw a ballet show right out there in the wide open, without anyone spotting her.
On the bright side, the folks playing the apes are all pretty good, and Caesar is actually a good main character that tries to do the right despite the odds stacked heavily against him. But without any good foil for him, poor Caesar doesn’t quite get to shine here.
Still, the whole thing is well put together and I have a pretty good time watching this one. It’s just very predictable and it also lacks that oomph factor that would make it more memorable to me. I won’t recommend going through the hassle of watching it in the theaters, but it will probably be good enough for streaming or rental some time down the road.