I remember six years ago when I walked out of the theater after having just seen Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) for the first time. This was my junior year of high-school, a time when my passion for film was beginning to really take form. Still, I was somewhat immature in my film criticism at the time; my critiques usually boiled down to “everything is a remake or a sequel these days.” I think something changed on that day. I had just seen a reboot/prequel of a classic sci-fi franchise that I enjoyed more than the original. I specifically remember walking out of the theater and agreeing with my father that “it was one of the best movies we had seen in theaters in a long time.”
What changed – for me – was the belief that a reboot/remake/prequel/whatever could never live up to its original source material. While I still believe that a lot of big studios produce content that is unoriginal and uninspired, it does not always have to come in the form of a “nostalgic” copy [insert ‘memberberry quote here]. The current Planet of the Apes trilogy is – without a doubt in my mind – the best trilogy that has been produced by Hollywood since the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series. This wasn’t necessarily a triumphant feat due to a severe lack of real competition, but it is impressive nonetheless.
That being said, the concurrent Planet of the Apes series follows nearly the exact same trend as the Dark Knight series did; they begin with a riveting first installment, are then followed by a mind-blowing sequel, and end with a somewhat-flat piece that never stood a chance against the legendary second film.
For this review, I will give scores for all three films, but only give analysis on the most recent film, War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), for the sake of time.
Rise – 8.3/10
Dawn – 9.1/10
War – 6.1/10
One of the most impressive things about the series was its ability to create intriguing stories that were driven by non-human characters. These stories were inspired, unique, and emotional on a lot of different levels. They were able to accomplish this despite being created by a committee of writers. Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves, and novelist Pierre Boulle together formed one of the only artistically successful writing committees that I have witnessed in film. Unfortunately, however, I do not believe this success carried over into the finale, though it is evident that the writers tried their best.
From my perspective, the final installment to this series was simply uninspired. I believe this to be evident in a number of things interspersed throughout the story. Examples of this would be its desperate and rushed attempts to form emotional arcs with characters that will quickly meet their demise, a fairly linear plot that is event-driven rather than character-driven, an antagonist whose motivations are severely unexplored, a forced “you are no better than your nemesis” arc for Caesar, and one more thing that I will discuss in my X-Factor. This may seem very nitpicky on my part, but I’m sticking to it.
One good thing to talk about is this film’s ability to create captivating scenes that feature no dialogue – and note that I’m counting sign language as dialogue. There is one character in particular that cannot speak and does not know sign language that is featured in a lot of these scenes.
One more positive before I move on is that the story still stays true to its characters. While it may not be character-driven like the previous two films were, it still emphasizes character and continues to connect audiences to them on an emotional level.
Rise – 7.9/10
Dawn – 8.6/10
War – 8.1/10
If Andy Serkis doesn’t at least get a lifetime achievement award in the next few years, then I swear I’ll… I dunno, make a movie about it or something (please don’t hold me to that). I truly believe that Serkis is one of the greatest living actors in the industry. The reason he is cast for so many roles that require him to wear motion-capture suites is because he seems to be on an entirely different level when it comes to physically performing his role. Some of the most memorable performances in film history are ones that feature terrific physical performances; Heath Ledger’s Joker, Johnny Depp in Pirates, Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal, hell, I’d even put Nicholas Cage as H.I. in Raising Arizona up there as a great example.
The reason this film scored lower than Dawn is simply a reflection of writing. The characters are not as riveting, but the performers are just as exemplary. Woody Harrelson – as confusing as his character is – acts the hell out him. A few other honorable mentions are Karin Konoval as Maurice, Terry Notary as Rocket, and Steve Zahn as Bad Ape.
Rise – 8.1/10
Dawn – 8.7/10
War – 9.3/10
The Visuals were the one element that improved with each new installment in the series. Despite the lower budget, the first film still managed to set a precedent for using CGI at the time, and each sequel only raised the bar even higher.
Regardless of where you stand on CGI, it is undeniable that the direction improved with each installment as well. Matt Reeves directed Dawn and War, and made it apparent that he has a true passion for this film series. Especially in this film, Reeves grabbed the bull by the horns and showed off his true potential with incredible shots that are almost innumerous, and excellently crafted scenes. If you’re wondering why my review seems to be a bit more negative than the vast majority of critics, I think this is your answer. When you take away the lacking story, I understand how this film starts to seem like it might be “a masterpiece,” as Chris Stuckmann said in his review of the film.
X-Factor: 4/10 Charlton Heston is dead, so we hired Moses instead
In case you didn’t know, legendary actor Charlton Heston was the star of the original Planet of the Apes series. Undoubtedly, the writers were tasked with packaging up this series in a neat little bow so it could be delivered as a “true prequel” to the original series. What better way to do that than to pay homage to its star by almost copying one of his other most famous roles? There’s a certain point in this film where you realize this movie has basically become a direct rip of the Moses story; [Potential Spoilers] from Caesar taking a beating for his fellow ape, to the avalanche that swiftly deals with the entire human army, and to Caesar leading the apes to the “Promised Land.” [End Spoilers]
Rise – 7.6/10
Dawn – 8.7/10
War – 6.9/10
War for the Planet of the Apes had a very tall order to complete. Time and time again, we’ve seen trilogy finales struggle to follow incredible second installments; The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Return of the Jedi (1983), Spider-Man 3 (2007), Beyond Thunderdome (1985), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)… wait, what was that last one?
All in all, War is a good conclusion to the series and the story of Caesar. If you’ve enjoyed any of the previous films in the series, then I don’t doubt that you will also enjoy this one (just don’t expect it to be the best in the series). However, if you’re an outsider to the series, then don’t let the overwhelmingly positive reviews fool you into going to see this film blind.