It’s here. The conclusion to a prequel trilogy spawned by a true 1960’s sci-fi classic. We saw the stubbornness and self-entitlement of humans in Rise and we saw Caesar and Koba battle through their own demons and start a war in Dawn. Now the war is in full swing and the end is nigh.
It’s been two years since the U.S. military was called in to fight off Caesar’s tribe of apes and the war has not abated. After a rogue faction of troops are captured and released by Caesar with a message that he desires peace, the battle becomes personal when the ruthless Colonel infiltrates the tribe’s home and murders Caesar’s wife and eldest son. Forced to flee to a new home, the apes leave the woods, but Caesar leaves to go on his own quest of revenge against the Colonel. Followed by Maurice, Luca, and Rocket, Caesar’s simple mission of vengeance takes a turn when he discovers various humans unable to speak and his tribe is captured and forced to work as prisoners of war.
This is the movie where the writers got to play with genre. The first was exposition and origin stories, the second was character exploration and development, this one is where they got to cram in all the clichéd metaphoric imagery and war movie references they could. Intertextual allusions are not a bad thing, when done right. But when done wrong or hurriedly, they can put the brakes on the cinematic experience. We’re left with no doubt from the beginning of War that this is a war movie. Various scenes immediately put us in mind of Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now, which is cool for the film admittedly, but the cliché of it does take away from the excitement. Nothing about the story or the characters is heightened by them so they just end up sitting there with very little purpose, making us turn our attention to them and go, ‘why’d they even bother?’
A brief interlude of the road movie provides breathing space before we’re thrown into the world of the POW film. The second half of the movie becomes a POW escape flick reminiscent of both The Great Escape and The Bridge on the River Kwai (at least narrative-wise). It’s weird because on the one hand, it does make the story engaging and empowering as well as proves opportune for film spectacle, but on the other hand it flattens a fair bit of the conflict that’s happening and shifts it aside. The confusing thing about this movie is its two conflicting central dramas. It’s a war between apes and humans, but it feels more like one trying to outdo the other in terms of reasons for fighting. Caesar’s driving force for the majority of the movie is revenge and defiance in the face of oppression, as well as the whole “apes together, strong” thing and that grows a bit stale after a while. The human side of the coin completely contradicts this with a story reminiscent of Apocalypse Now happening between this rogue Colonel and the rest of the U.S. military. Looking at the two side by side, it’s not so much war for the planet rather than little wars all happening at the same time and a lot of the grandeur and epic-ness of the title gets taken away.
On a more positive note, the performances continue to be mesmerizing, especially those of Andy Serkis and his troupe of motion-capturists. And, for the most part, there is a lot of exciting and engaging spectacle happening on screen that gets adrenaline going and inspires sound emotional responses. Drama is also heightened by the film’s wonderful soundtrack by Michael Giacchino who is so hot right now.
From the trilogy, Dawn is the one that really stands out, but War is a solid follow-on and, regardless of some of its flaws, it’s a perfect way to end the trilogy.