There is this utterly fascinating thing about these Planet of the Apes reboots: they all have pretty ridiculous narrative weaknesses, yet almost no one seems to care or even recognize them while watching… myself included.
The Apes movies are obviously not the only ones guilty of this; Disney has (currently) based their entire empire on weak stories that somehow avoid almost all criticism. However, unlike Disney movies, whenever I watch these Planet of the Apes reboots, I thoroughly enjoy them despite my logical brain firing off numerous warning shots.
What I’m saying is, I really really enjoyed this movie… but I have some problems with it, and ya’ll gonna hear about it. I’ll mention everything I want to about this movie in order of my most favorite to my least favorite.
So my favorite thing about the movie is easily Caesar. Out of all three movies, this one definitely gives him the most robust character arc (that’s not saying TOO much, but still). The relationship he has with all the other apes are very serviceable. None of the apes are as characterized as much as I was hoping for (except for Maurice, who was great as usual and often contrasted with Caesar rather well), but it was still interesting to see the relationship dynamic between him, his close followers, and the entire clan of apes.
Speaking of contrasting rather well, Woody Harrelson’s character was by far the most interesting antagonist to Caesar. His disdain for Caesar and vice versa made for some really good scenes with some decent dialogue and decent tension. There were never any moments that crescendoed into an amazing, memorable standoff, but they did get close a few times.
The child actor was good. I really like how a lot of movies now compensate for a having a child actor by either purposefully making their character awkward, or by not allowing their character to speak much, if at all. The girl they had in the movie was the latter. When she came onto the screen, and she stared at a dead body while looking bored, I was afraid that she would be a detractor, but by golly, the girl was able to act. Her performance definitely improved throughout the story.
The new character “Bad Ape”, the one that activist DeRay Mckesson hilariously accused the movie of portraying him as because Bad Ape wore a similar blue vest, was pretty funny. He was an interesting character for a while… but the more and more the movie tried to use him as “comic relief”, the more annoyed I got because they essentially did the same joke over and over again with the weird sounds he makes.
Moving down to the “meh’s” of the movie.
The CGI for the apes was overall good. There were a handful of scenes where they showed a massive pack of apes, and it looked like they did a copy-paste of some of them. I get it, animation is hard and you have to take shortcuts, but it sort of took me out of the movie.
The overall plot is a bit of an oddity. In order for me to explain why, I’ll have to spoil the movie, so here’s a warning:
Essentially, the apes get attacked early on at the hideout, so everyone packs up and flees to the super-secret, past-the-desert place, but Caesar goes along ahead to hunt The Colonel in hopes to “buy time for the other apes”… so they spend the next twenty minutes dicking around in the movie, finding new characters, and then… somehow… the apes Caesar left behind to distract The Colonel somehow get captured anyway? What? How? Why? Ah well, plot I guess…
Essentially, we get a plot that really doesn’t go anywhere for the first hour or so. It’s a good thing the plot didn’t necessarily suck, but it did feel a little filler-ish.
Onto the stuff I didn’t like.
Now anyone who has read my reviews before knows I hate text paragraphs at the beginning of the movie giving backstory… especially when the movie later reveals this information through the events and dialogue anyway.
Well this movie did it… and somehow found a way to make it MORE stupid and condescending that usual.
The movie literally has three full paragraphs at the beginning which serve to give synopses for the first two movies and an explanation of the movie I was about to watch. They even included and highlighted the title words for each movie.
STUPID, CONDESCENDING, AND UNNECESSARY.
The ending is undoubtedly my least favorite part of the whole movie. It would have been the cheesiest ending I’ve seen all year had I not seen Wonder Woman (and honestly, this one may be even cheesier).
And obviously, I can’t talk about it without spoiling the movie, so here it goes:
So by the end of the movie, as the humans are fighting the other humans, and then suddenly the humans up on the wall see the apes escaping in between the firefight. At that point, the invading humans completely disappear so that the apes can get mowed down by the wall humans. And Caesar finds a massive oil leak from a rig, and runs to throw a grenade at it, but then crossbow-McCrossbow-face shoots him in the side before he can get there.
And the gorilla on the human side sees this and is so deeply moved that, after a long and drawn out and dramatic pause, he kills crossbow-McCrossbow-face, sacrificing himself for Caesar. Caesar then throws the grenade in the oil spill… and despite the fact that the oil spill is roughly an equal distance between Caesar and the bad humans, the explosion only extends to one side, and Caesar barely even needs to duck for cover to evade. I guess the movie realized that Caesar was the lead character and invoked an explosion-specific, magical force field.
THEN… out of nowhere, the invading humans all show up again as if they never left, and they take over the wall guys. Then they all notice Caesar, and some start aiming their guns at him, and then the magical convenience avalanche shows up and literally wipes out every single human, but it gave all the apes enough time to climb up some trees so that none of them die.
AND THEN, after celebrating their victory, they travel to the ape promise land that Caesar’s blank slate son told them about in the beginning of the movie, and it takes them an undisclosed amount of time, but I would imagine it took multiple days…. and as soon as they finally get there, they all start jumping and playing (and I swear, it showed the same scene of that little human girl hopping around with baby apes three or four times… as if the movie kept cutting back to a gif). And I kid you not, Caesar then looks at his side, and realized that his wound from crossbow-McCrossbow-face was untreated… and he’s dying from the wound.
So why did Caesar travel for days from an untreated wound despite the fact that every known human threat is dead, and they no longer needed to hurry away from the place? Because the movie needed a sad ending where Caesar gave his life away to bring all the apes to Ape Happy Village R Us. They couldn’t stop to check for wounds? The wound didn’t bother Caesar the full days they were walking to this place? They said in the beginning of the movie that it was a place separated by a desert so big that the humans wouldn’t go after them, and they couldn’t stop once to just check?
Nah, man. We gotta tear-jerk the audience.
So okay, okay, I know I’ve highlighted some huge complaints about the film, and they definitely bring it down. However, the movie is still enjoyable in and of itself. The Jeremy Jahns and Chris Stuckmanns of the world will gush about this film because it’s a crowd pleaser, and I was certainly pleased. But that doesn’t excuse the things in the film that drag it down.
If you want your films to get better, you must acknowledge the cinematic crap that doesn’t work. If you don’t, then you will continue to get mediocre stories. Maybe that’s what people want? I know I don’t, so I’ll keep calling it out even if I’m one of the few to do it.
6 out of 10.