Hot Take: Heavy. Maybe… the… most… serious… summer movie… I’ve ever… seen.
When I think summer blockbuster, I think the opposite of what I saw unfold in War for the Planet of the Apes, the third installment of the Planet of the Apes trilogy. Yes, it was a big budget action packed film. Usually, though, these action heavy films provide some level of fun and excitement. With War for the Planet of the Apes, you instead get tension, evolved thinking and a serious debate on morality and humanity. Yes, it has all the elements of a Sci-Fi film. However, the film is closer to Shakespeare, historical allegories to the civil rights movement and slavery or even the Bible than your normal Sci-Fi fare. There is absolutely nothing trivial about this summer sequel in a series that has traditionally been known for raising the bar well above the usual summer offering. However, that being said, it ain’t the fun, popcorn flick you’re used to seeing either.
One of the weirdest things about War for the Planet of the Apes is because of how serious the film is, I find it really difficult to make jokes about it. Even in the opening “Hot Take” snippet, I made a dig at the speech patterns of many of the characters, as it seemed like the film was written to provide Mystery Science Theater 3000 with enough long pauses to fit in as many jokes as possible. With words like “thoughtful” and “smart” and “powerful” and “edgy” coming to mind when looking for descriptors of what unfolded on screen, it feels disingenuous to point out that the film’s main characters appear to be eunuchs to prevent audience members from having to go through a biology lesson in addition to the history and philosophy lessons the film provides.
Having seen only bits and pieces of the first two films of the series while seeing all of the original Planet of the Apes films from the 60s and 70s , the latest film continues down the path of the first two films with its’ tone and avoids the more mindless path the original series went down. In the third installment, we are immediately thrust into a battle between man and ape in the middle of the woods as the human army thinks they have finally located the main base of the apes. What they come upon appears to be a trap set to ambush the humans and the apes take full advantage and behind the strong military leadership of Caesar (Andy Serkis), wipe out most of the human forces. Caesar captures a few of the human soldiers and instead of killing them, sends them back to their Colonel (Woody Harrelson) to send the message of a desire to co-exist together without war. There’s no time to breathe as Caesar’s son Blue Eyes returns with news of an opportunity for the on-the-run apes to descend into the desert and find their way to a peaceful, secluded and habitable area of land in what has many parallels to the Moses-led escape of the Jews from the Egyptians. Before Caesars’ clan can even begin their journey, a group of soldiers show up at their base camp and murder Caesars’ wife and son, leaving behind only Cornelius and sending Caesar into a fit of rage. This sets the stage for Caesars to separate from his clan and seek out revenge on the Colonel for murdering his family.
Even in that paragraph which is to provide the tone for the film, it feels like I’ve given away too much of the film’s story on the surface. However, this incredibly complex and morally challenging tale is so plot heavy and has enough twists and turns in its plot that these opening moments feel like a distant memory by the time the film reaches its epic conclusion. While nothing will ever equal the conclusion of the 1968 original Planet of the Apes when we finally see the half-buried Statue of Liberty, War for the Planet of the Apes almost reaches the heights of the original as it grapples with the man vs. ape dilemma in such a way that you feel bad for humanity but, at the same time, sorry for it, too. Even the majestic main character Caesar comes across as flawed in this epic conclusion to a trilogy that was already on the philosophically heavy side through the first two installments and now added an emotional heft unparalleled this summer or, heck, maybe any summer.
As the film reached its conclusion, the 3/4 filled theater delivered a rather awkward response to its conclusion. As the final minutes concluded, a few people began to exit early. The rest appeared glued to their seat. Once the credits began to roll, those who didn’t leave early remained in their seat. There was an uncomfortable silence followed by an even more awkward clap. Eventually, the random clap spiraled into half of the remaining audience giving it a healthy round of applause. The response, though, was perfect as I don’t know if anyone who sat down to watch the film was ready for what unfolded on screen. It’s not what we’re used to when we see a summer blockbuster but once you get through all of your expectations, you’re appreciative of what director and co-writer Matt Reeves was able to accomplish with this conclusion to the trilogy.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Serkis and the CGI
The combination of Serkis’ emotionally filled dialogue and some excellent CGI work, the emotions of Caesar are on full display throughout the 140 minute film. The devastating opening leads to a conflicted Caesar who wrestles with his emotions from beginning to end and has to fight through his hatred to find a more level-headed solution than the revenge he originally seeks.
- The Madness of Woody Harrelson
As the Colonel, Harrelson’s darkest character to date is on display. We’re used to Harrelson’s impeccable comedic timing on screen but there’s not one moment of humor from him in this film. Somehow, though, it works.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- A Real Grind
By the end of War for the Planet of the Apes, I was exhausted. It’s a rare feat for a film to have such an impact and even more rare considering it was a summer action Sci-Fi flick on the surface. Below the surface, it is so much more and the unexpectedness of the gravity of the film was a real gut punch.