Thoughts on War for the Planet of the Apes

Spoilers ahead

1.
Disclaimer: Apparently, War has a number of similarities to Apocalypse Now, a film I haven’t seen (which I’m sure is a violation of at least 4 Man Rules)

2.
The animation in War is incredible. The apes were realistically ape-like, while their faces still conveyed a gamut of human emotions. I like to imagine War as the first real nature documentary. When Attenborough is around, they fake it because they know he’s watching. But War caught them when they thought no one else was around, doing actual ape activities like firing guns and fighting Woody Harrelson.

As impressively animated as Caesar was, Bad Ape was the peak. Before he spoke, his face revealed what the tone of his next sentence would be. Outside of a video-realistic humans (looking at you, Rogue One), there’s now nothing CGI can’t do. And the cost to create those effects will, presumably, continue to drop in line with Moore’s Law. Imagine, in just a few years time, effects of this quality being available to indie film-makers. We’re at an exciting moment in film tech.

3.
Bad Ape arrived just when he was needed. War takes itself very seriously. It’s a well-made film about death and extinction and survival, but it’s still about apes fighting people, and its creators should recognise that that’s amusing. When the weight of all that seriousness was becoming too much to bear, Bad Ape showed up and effectively counterbalanced it.

4.
I’ve never been able to figure out the ingredients to successful tension-defusing humour. What does it work and why does it fail? Is it just the quality of the humour, the time given between drama and comedy, a mix of the two, or something else entirely? War tried to quickly transition from a starved orangutan being murdered (with allusions to the Nazi concentration camps), to Ha ha, Bad Ape has the binoculars round the wrong way. It failed. Did that tone-change falter because it wouldn’t be funny regardless, or because the light-hearted moment was too close to a dark one?

5.
A low point: opening text appears. The first segment highlights the word ‘Dawn’. The second, ‘Rise’. Both words remained when the others faded. Yes, I get that these are the names of the first two films. You don’t need to make it so obvious. Caesar explains who Koba was for anyone who missed the previous installment. War should’ve trusted its audience more

6.
Absolute low point: graffiti that read Ape-pocalypse Now. An absolute head-slapper of a moment. Who thought that was a good idea? No matter how closely War resembles Apocalypse Now, so blatantly highlighting that fact only succeeded in breaking my immersion in the film’s universe.

7.
War had a clear case of the Recency Bias, or whatever you’d call it when a film’s ending has a disproportionate effect on your estimation of it. As the credits rolled, my wife asked “What did you think?”. “That was really good”, I replied. Then I remembered the moments where I was bored or wished the pace would quicken. It was as if my mind was forcible trying to remove those memories.

8.
Additional spoiler warning here:

Annoyingly, suspension of disbelief never kicked in for me regarding Caesar’s fate. I assumed the success of this Apes trilogy meant the studio would run the series into the ground, and Caesar would be the linchpin to which they’d attach another 235 films (Apes #23: Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis of the Planet of the Apes). That ‘fact’ stuck so prominently in my mind that, any time Caesar seemed to be in jeopardy, I never worried. The logical part of my mind that so often switches off during stories? It refused to shut up. Caesar got shot with an arrow, and I thought Whatever, he’ll be fine. So imagine my surprise when he lay down to enter the forest in the sky. I got a bit emotional at that bit. A tear came to my mental eye. It’s a goddam dirty fictional ape. That emotional response says a lot about how well these films humanise their characters and how good they are.

9.
Disliked: so that wee girl could just wander completely unnoticed into the compound? Floodlights roam the place, but no soldiers actually pay them any attention? There wasn’t a more realistic way to write that scene?

10.
Weren’t the apes’ cages just a few bars and no roof? Aren’t apes good at climbing? As far as I could see, most of them weren’t chained. Could they not have just scaled the bars and gotten out? Especially at night, when no one seems to be watching (see above)

11.
The landslide was convenient. From what I remember there was no foreshadowing to it. Screenwriters must’ve been clutching their necklaces at the lack of setup, of a film embracing deus ex machina instead of Chekov’s Gun.

Maybe, when Caesar is taken to meet Harrelson, a soldier could’ve been there who worried that explosions could bring down the snow around them. Harrelson would have dismissed him. That’s how these things work — ignore the scientist, and find out too late that he was right all along.

Regardless, I enjoyed the effects of the landslide. It was like nature hitting the Big Reset Button, putting apes back in trees and getting rid of pesky humans

12.
Apes has possibly been too successful for its own good. No matter what route the franchise takes from here out, I expect the artistic quality to diminish. So let’s remember that War is a good film and its prequels are even better. Their success has been a pleasant surprise. This Apes reboot is one of the better trilogies in all of cinema. They deserve to be fondly remembered.

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