Just as you’d find it difficult to find a more thematically ambitious blockbuster this summer than War for the Planet of the Apes, the third installment in the series of Planet of the Apes prequels preceded by Rise and Dawn, you’ll have a hard time finding a blockbuster that is more miserable to watch.
War is visually stunning, even beyond the uncanny-valley-defying apes and Andy Serkis’ witchcraft the cinematography is engaging and arresting. War also boasts an inspired, left-of-center score that is easily the best of the thirty-some scores produces this fiscal year by Michael Giacchino. Even the film’s comedic relief is on point.
Unfortunately, all of that takes a backseat as the film’s second act pumps the breaks and concerns itself primarily with chimp torture. I’m sure a stopwatch might prove me overdramatic, but I certainly felt as though the movie spent an hour intimidating, whipping and straight-up crucifying chimpanzees.
Those familiar with Rise of the Planet of the Apes know these prequels are no stranger to maliciously tormenting primates and the expanded scale of that torment in War provides an interesting point of contrast to the circumstances in the first film, circumstances that essentially birthed Serkis’ protagonist Caesar, who is now a revolutionary leader, but by the time you’re done making that comparison and mulling it over you’ve still got another 55 minutes of ape torture ahead of you.
Like Rosemary or Thyme, a little bit of chimpanzee crucifixion goes a long way. This movie has so much chimpanzee crucifixion.
As miserable as large parts of War can be, the film also boasts an interesting and thoughtful examination of the sacrifices required to be a leader
I’m not the first, and won’t be the last, to point out the lack of a titular War in War for the Planet of the Apes. If there is a war in the film, it takes place within the heart and mind of Caesar as he grapples with the dichotomy of being a revolutionary and being a monkey dad. The film provides insightful commentary on the responsibilities both positions entail, positing that to lead a people out of persecution and serve as a living, breathing symbol of freedom one must become both more and less than human (or chimp), surrendering certain aspects of personhood and individuality or paying steep tolls for clinging to them.
War for the Planet of the Apes is also commendable for the minimal amounts of contortion it does to lay way for the film it leads into. Unlike Revenge of the Sith or Rogue One, War doesn’t bother planting every seed for the developments that occur between it and the original 1968 Planet of the Apes, instead offering us a quick glance at unplowed fields and leaving us to imagine what the interim centuries between Apes films entail.
Though it isn’t the strongest entry in this prequel trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes is a suitable ending to a series of films that are serious contenders for the greatest prequels ever made.