If you are ready for some top-flight man on monkey violence, then War for the Planet of the Apes is the movie for you. But it is so much more than that. It is a nuanced exploration of racism, sexism, compassion, and possibly the greatest cinematic meditation on existential philosophy since The Seventh Seal.
Nah, I’m just kidding. It really just amounts to some good only man on monkey violence. It’s not that the movie doesn’t try to do the things listed above, it just doesn’t do them very well. The apes are generally set up in the “good camp” and the humans in the “bad camp” in this one, and we spend probably an hour of the movie literally watching the apes ape various stages of grief and angst and heartbreak while we wait around for the film to get to Woody Harrelson.
But, get to them they finally do, featuring one spectacular, borderline insane expository monologue that nearly saves the film along a number of fronts. By the time they got around to the monologue, I had almost completely checked from the story, but he introduced enough material to bring the story back in play. He is also able to almost — almost — blur the “good ape, bad man” line with his historic account, enough to give us a little sympathy for the human side. Like the greats, he makes those around him better, so things that had been annoying me to that point got a little less annoying. But, alas, even the Hestonesque charismatic burst doesn’t save the film, and what we are left with is a few great pieces of film making in a movie that is pretty stupid and at least an hour too long (but do check out L’s review for a pro’s perspective on some of the legitimate cinematic achievements).
There are a couple of big plusses here. Some of the action is great, including a super awesome wrinkle in the climactic scene. Although I am kind of bashing on the movie here, even haters like me will take the drama seriously enough to enjoy the action in the context of the dramatic narrative, unlike action for action’s sake in, say, the Transformers or Alien v. Predator movies. It’s probably worth mentioning again that Woody is must-see tv. And, finally, this is one of the few movies where you can feel license to enjoy the fabulous Marcus 128 oz soda specials, because there are plenty of spaces between the pauses here to take a pit stop or two.
Over the $5 bar for some great action and for Woody, but I would have been willing to pay more for less for this one.