War for the Planet of the Apes: A Technically Perfect Monstrosity


I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve walked out of a movie theater halfway through a movie. My attempt at watching “War for the Planet of the Apes” is the third such occasion. And to think I had such high hopes! I can only conclude that everyone who rated the movie on IMDB.com, and all raving reviewers, saw a different cut, or more probably, an entirely different movie.

Admittedly, “War” is is technically perfect, with awe-inspiring CGI, entirely convincing apes, and spectacular fight and battle scenes. If all a movie needed were good visuals and spectacle, “War” would deserve a 10, no discussion.

But a good movie needs a convincing plot as well; believable characters with character development and relatable emotions; in short, good writing. And in that sense, this movie furthers the worrying trend of ignoring the need for content in favor of form.

BE WARNED: HERE BE SPOILERS!

It starts in the opening sequence. A battle without a clear point or any reason to care about it, with its own annoying set of logic flaws, is followed by an interrogation scene. In this scene, the characters indulge in shameless exposition, the POWs spilling their beans without hesitation so that the viewer understands what it was all about. This bit actually made me squirm with vicarious embarassment: lazy plotting and lazy writing taken to a whole new level. (A doomed attempt is made by the sound track composer to enhance this scene with music, but the score is emphatic to the point of overbearing, a distraction and an annoyance.)

The laziness of both the writers and the directors is also painfully apparent in every single chase and reconnoitering scene. On one occasion, an entire human army travels over a wide-open beach. The ape heroes chase the army, all four of them, on horseback, about a quarter-mile behind the last vehicle, and in plain view. A little later in the movie, they spy on the army’s encampment, again up close and in plain view. And what to think of the time they sneak up on a compound, one of the apes says he believes this to be the army’s base, and they simply ride in anyway? (Again, to the accompaniment of overbearing music.)

SPOILER ALERT: And that particular scene gets worse once they establish that the compound is deserted. They encounter a single human, who despite the odds agaist him, and the two automatic rifles aimed at him, attempts to draw, and is gunned down. Immediately after, the apes find a little girl, and befriend her without apparent effort, even convincing her to come with them. The fact that they make her walk past the warm corpse of what can only be her dad is compensated, apparently, by the fact that the orangutan hands her a stuffed animals she’s half a dozen years too old for. (Cue the overbearing violins.)

This is but one example of how emotional development, interactions, and character arcs seem tacked on, unconvincing, fundamentally flawed. It’s like the makers thought it sufficient to telegraph emotional development in established movie shorthand: look, here’s the dead child, so now the dad is heartbroken and wants revenge! Look, the scary gorilla who killed her dad picked a flower for her, so now the girl will cry her heart out when the ape dies! (To the overbearing sound of an entire orchestra.)

The low point in this lazy, unconvincing shorthand is the way the humans are depicted as the worst evil imaginable. Look, not only do they kill apes, they execute their own handicapped, and torture the apes they capture! This is made worse by the fact that in the first hour–the bit I saw–the only point of view is the apes’, so the viewer doesn’t even get to experience first-hand how and why these atrocities are committed. Maybe the writers thought this would make the horror and evil more believable; the opposite is true.

And did I mention the overbearing music?

I walked out on “The man in the iron mask” because I could not stand the cinematography and nonsense plotline. “Babel” made me physically ill. “War” is now the third movie I’ve abandoned. A waste of an hour of my life, a waste of ten of my euros.

PS: “What did you expect?” you may argue. “You went to see a sci-fi action flick with talking apes in the leading roles.” To which I say: I have the utmost respect for action movies that dispense with believable characters altogether, and just focus on the plot and the action sequences. What I can’t tolerate is movies with the pretension of emotional depth and three-dimensional characters, that do such a lazy, sloppy job of it.