Dir.: Matt Reeves; Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Karen Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notari, Steve Zahn; USA 2017, 140 min.
In trying to make a ‘serious’ blockbuster, director/co-writer Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) has certainly achieved his intellectual intention. But the running time of 140 minutes is simply not justified by a narrative which too often treads water plundering Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and a biblical symbolism that takes us back all the way to the 1951 epic Quo Vadis.
WARS’s production values are nevertheless stunning, particularly the CGI images of the beasts whose war for planet earth is faring badly, led by its chief Ape Caesar (Serkis). The US troops, under the command of ‘The Colonel’ (Harrelson), a psychotic sadist, are driving Caesar’s army and civilians into the woods: extinction is a distinct possibility. After soldiers have killed Caesar’s wife and eldest son, the leader is bleeding tears of revenge and goes to hunt The Colonel down aided by Maurice (Konoval); Rocket (Notari) and Bad Ape (Zahn). On their way to The Colonel’s camp in the mountains, where large numbers of Apes are imprisoned, the group picks up a young mute girl, who they call Nova – a nice reference to the Linda Harrison character of the same name in the original 1968 Planet of Apes. When they reach the camp, Caesar is captured immediately and interrogated by The Colonel. Caesar is informed that he had to shoot his own son, afflicted by an illness that robs humans of their higher cognitive functions and the ability to speak. The Colonel is using the Apes to build a wall to resist the imminent arrival of US forces – but a reason why is never given. By the time these troops arrive, Caesar slips effortlessly into the Moses role, whilst Nova and the young Apes frolic around.
To be frank, Reeves has chosen the wrong genre to show this politically correct internal battle between Caesar and The Colonel: whilst the Colonel is (like Kurtz in Apocalypse Now) unhinged, Caesar dreams that his former opponent Koba (Stalin’s nom-de-guerre in the underground) appears to him; thus helping him to forsake personal revenge in the end. And we do not need signs like “Ape-ocalypse Now” in the military compound, since Reeves references his pet film often enough – right up to the helicopter formation during the battle scenes.
DoP Michael Seresin (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and composer Michael Giaccino (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) add terrific entertainment value, but ultimately the film fails the litmus test: our interest starts to wane after only 90 minutes (in the most comfortable of seats) and we are still required to sit through another fifty. Yet again, it boils down to less is more. Reeves’ effort to marry showmanship with a philosophical debate on the virtues of pacifism is doomed because, like all anti- war movies, the opulent fighting scenes are the beating heart of this hollow and gruelling ‘epic’. AS
OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 11 JULY 2017