I had a really great time with two thirds of War for the Planet of the Apes. But after thinking about the final product put to screen, I have to say that I'm disappointed. Any other movie in any other franchise. Any other director with any other set of skills. The easiest way to explain it? War for the Planet of the Apes was a movie of expectations.
Part of the reason why I was let down is because of how absolutely in love I am with the previous film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Matt Reeves who helms War as well, helped create such a beautiful world in Dawn. It’s a rare hollywood movie (in terms of budget, cast and production) that felt wholly original and distinct. You could watch Dawn with no understanding of the franchise and still come away in a tremendous sense of awe.
I didn’t get any of that with this latest and final entry.
I’ve been negative so far, but I really did enjoy the two and a half hour runtime of War. Reeves once again directs a beautiful film and the opening 10 minutes are a visceral and brutal treat. It’s clear to see why Reeves has been pegged to direct the next standalone Batman film.
But the other side of the coin is that Reeves also wrote this one, and the writing seemed more stiff this time around. Especially once it came time to shift focus from the apes to the human threat. Now I’m sure it’s not Reeves fault per say, but I do miss the presence of Rick Jaffa who co-wrote the other two films.
In Dawn, the humans were just as fleshed out as their ape counterparts. The villain wasn’t really a terrible person, just scared and ignorant. Jason Clarke's Malcolm was a great character for Andy Serkis and Caesar to partner with and the film’s message was subtle and nuanced.
I didn’t feel a lot of nuance in War. And while Serkis was outstanding once again—the conversation surrounding Oscars for this type of acting should resurface—Woody Harrelson’s Colonel didn’t work. As the man baddy he felt like a composite of every wartime psychopath. At one point Brando in Apocalypse Now, at other times Sgt. Barnes from Platoon. Even in a scene meant to either humanize his character or prove how batshit crazy he was, it just felt like I had seen this before. The writers also kept hinting at some sort of redemption for a certain character that never came, which felt weird. I wish it wasn’t included.
I wanted a movie that truly blew me away. I wanted a film that wrapped up a trilogy in a way that didn’t feel neat and tidy. I wanted far too much from War of the Planet of the Apes.
I think that’s something people forget when reviewing and talking about anything pop culture related: It’s never our creations. Although, that’s all criticism really is. You’re negative on a film because it strayed too far from what you wanted, or praise it for falling in line with your vision. There’s an inherent problem here, refusing to allow pop culture creations to remain in the realm of the creator. Instead we adopt the product, find our own meaning in process and destroy the thing we desperately wanted to enjoy.
There’s a duality in confronting expectations. Narrowly focused and unsure; delusional at best. It’s why you’ll you’ll say you won’t get excited for something despite not knowing what that actually means. We’re excited for the possibilities that a project offers because we create the final product. My War for the Planet of the Apes film is different than the one I got and that’s totally cool.
But it also means accepting disappointment as part of the creative process. The creative process that comes with engaging in any sort of pop culture. Churning over your thoughts and deciding whether or not something works based on a set of predetermined figures. It’s why once and awhile we’re caught off-guard by a product we’ve watched, listened to or read. When what you’ve watched doesn’t match your mental picture but you still find yourself smiling up, you aren’t exactly sure how to react. It’s understanding that sometimes the reasons you do or don’t like something are completely invalid and pointless.
I should have stayed far away from War before it came out. I shouldn’t have thought about the possibilities, about the different endings they could play with, about who would live and die. But that’s another part of enjoying the pop culture process. The lead up is just as rewarding as the eventual pay off. What’s a Kendrick album without pouring over the track list beforehand? Dissecting song titles, analyzing the features and who you wished was put on.
It might be disappointing that certain things didn’t play out the way I expected but I should be happy I got a movie as half as good as Dawn. I’ve been spoiled with the movies I’ve been watching lately and I think it’s entirely my own fault in terms of failed expectations.
And it hurts to write this way, because War is fucking gorgeous. It's well acted, it’s surprisingly funny and it does a great job of finishing a character arc started (sort of) seven years ago. I should be extraordinarily happy with War for the Planet of the Apes.
But I’m not and that’s okay.
Also, War for the Planet of the Apes is is worth seeing in theatres for the sheer realism that WETA studios was able to put to screen. In my head I knew the apes were a CGI creation, but I still choked up whenever one confronted pain.
War for the Planet of the Apes: If you’re at all a fan of the franchise, of course you need to see this one.