War for the Planet of the Apes buries a complex morality saga in the cold – literally in the climax. It’s a circumstance of luck and more so, of convenient cinematic screen writing.
Why this trilogy-ending sequel seems to play narrative dodgeball with wartime morals is odd. Rise dealt with genetics and human tampering; Dawn wrestled with peacekeeping and its complexities; War tells a direct, unambiguous story of good versus evil.
There’s a step down here, where the apes become pawns in a pseudo-American civil war. Apes become slaves, not unlike the searing 1972 civil rights feature, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. The same anger exists in War for the Planet of the Apes. In both films, Caesar (Andy Serkis, again) – an older, wiser ape, now fully capable of speech – must confront his ethos regarding murder.
… an ultimately simple conclusion to a complex build-up
… an ultimately simple conclusion to a complex build-up
No one will question who is right though. Woody Harrelson stars as the villain, steely-eyed and cold. He leaves the apes outside, crammed into cages, under perpetual rain or snow. Harrelson’s Colonel starves his slaves and works them to an eventual death in his labor camp. Caesar becomes a Christ-like figure, strung up in the cold and beaten. There’s no question of who to root for and who is right.
There’s not an empathetic human in the film aside from a mute girl (Amiah Miller). She’s in War for the Planet of the Apes’ script as an emotional core. Otherwise, she’s inconsequential to the wider story. That leaves War for the Planet of the Apes with limited thematic weight; Caesar hero, Colonel villain. It ends as any blockbuster in this situation is expected to.
A mean streak cuts through the center. It’s stark, somber, and cruel. Few scenes pass without torrential rains. A surprising number of key characters fall for good. Then comes the (likely) studio-mandated inclusion, ill-plotted comedy at ill-plotted times from a kooky, fearful sidekick known as Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). In a movie so drenched in mood and covered in PG-13 bloodletting, the insertion of a one-liner spewing comedy act is dreadfully out of sync. If War for the Planet of the Apes wasn’t sure of resonating with an audience because of its glum mood, Bad Ape is the insurance.
Credit is due to Michael Giacchino’s evocative score, imbuing some of Max Steiner’s motifs and giving some of the lurching scenes a bit of heft. War of the Planet of the Apes overextends itself. That’s likely not as harmful if the script ever took a risk. In a sense, this effects-thick road movie pushes characters onward toward a handful of spectacle-laced setpieces. It’s fine, but an ultimately simple conclusion to a complex build-up.
Video (4K UHD)
Turn down your brightness. That’s step one for watching War of the Planet of the Apes. Divergent did this too on UHD, mastered a bit off from the usual IRE levels, requiring an adjustment of four notches (on an LG set, anyway) to achieve true black in the negative space. From there, the disc is fine.
With a somewhat faded look, there’s a dusting of HDR for much of this movie. Shots of beaches near sunset glisten beautifully. Spotlights inside the militia camp sear onto characters. Torches do the same. Color remains reserved, save for some forest greenery in the early parts. Density will sprout from those greens. Some green laser sights dazzle too in the opening act. Mostly, War for the Planet of the Apes sits in a dreary collection of blues.
Coloring work begins to cut down depth, robbing War of the Planet of the Apes of true black. There’s certainly contrast; inside the base, at night, the screen fills with substantial depth. Much of the running time is made up of travels across snowy exteriors, flattening out into a series of grays.
Thankfully, this 2K source can astound with fidelity. The level of texture work involved with the Apes is a marvel. Their fur stands out in any condition, rendered wet or dry. Their skin features pores and their eyes visibly pooling tears. Gorgeous environments keep the ape’s travels lively, always rich in detail. For the few human characters, they gain equal clarity. Even the youngest in the cast, Miller, shows detail when the camera first zooms in on her in bed.
Well rendered at 1080p, fidelity remains high on this disc. War for the Planet of the Apes brings detail in close or from afar. The apes remain a visual effects highlight, an observation made visible by this Blu-ray.
Rather dry color permeates War for the Planet of the Apes by design. Blues dominate. Sometimes faded black levels show minor noise, if not enough to become a problem. Fox’s encode is hearty enough to handle any such concerns.
For the key action scenes, the Dolby Atmos mix is a delight, even if it seems to ignore the full rear soundstage at times. There’s a preference for the side surrounds. There, missiles whip by, bullets pass, and apes grunt. A fight near a waterfall rushes water into every channel, flawlessly balanced together with the score.
When heft is needed, Atmos provides. Horses charge forward, stomping the ground with sufficient rumble. Explosions wallop the subwoofer with all of the force they can. Finally, an avalanche certainly feels mountain-sized.
This all comes through with dominating dynamic range and weight.
Matte Reeves goes solo for a commentary track, the only feature shared by both discs. He continues on the Blu-ray, chatting (optionally) through 10 deleted scenes. Waging War marks the first and longest of the featurettes, near a half-hour, detailing the production. It’s a touch commercial-y, but the info is insightful.
All About Caesar tracks the lead ape through the three films and his evolution. WETA: Pushing Boundaries almost does the same in a way, using Caesar as the center of their effects explanation. Reeves and composer Michel Giacchino feature prominently in the fun Music for the Apes, shot on Reeves’ birthday. Those interested in connections to the classic Apes series get The Apes Saga: A Homage. Note some of the connections lean toward tenuous at best.
For the final feature, there’s The Meaning of it All, exploring the themes and purpose of each Apes film. It’s deeper than expected and nicely encapsulates the series to now.
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