**This review contains spoilers**
Matt Reeves is a hammer who never met a nail he didn’t want to wack. However, that fact shouldn’t be a spoiler to anyone who has been paying attention.
Awhile back I expressed my…dislike…with Mr. Reeves work when I posted the War for the Planet of the Apes trailer. I argued that Reeves had the subtlety of a jackhammer. That his ham-fisted way of conveying themes and emotions made my teeth grind. I first noticed this in his remake of Let the Right One In (2008), Let Me In (2010). It, of course, showed up again in Dawn of The Planet of the Apes (2014) and by golly gosh it manifested itself in this film…with a vengeance.
One should always trust their spider-sense. And this is no exception. During the opening of the film, the text describing the events of the past two films had certain text highlighted and deeply emphasized. Rise. Dawn. War.
Rise of The Planet of the Apes
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
War of the Planet of the Apes.
This show of connecting these words to the movies titles triggered my spider-sense in ways that are difficult to explain. “What’s wrong with that?” Someone might retort. “They embedded those key words in the description text, and they highlighted them so we knew they were there. It’s cool.”
“and they highlighted them so we knew they were there. It’s cool.”
Ah..thank you for pointing out why my spider-sense went off.
Problem 1. They are trying to be cool. In my experience, those who try to be cool or clever are anything but.
Problem 2. They didn’t trust the audience enough to make their own connections, in their own time. This is a huge problem. This shows a lack of patience and demonstrates a hubristic need to be ‘recognized’ for whatever…immediately. One who sports this mentality has no interest in nuance or subtlety. They want you to get their point right then and there and further more they want it to be loud and clear that it was they who made the point. In other words…a hammer.
Problem 3. I question the priorities of someone who came up with these silly word games in the first place.
So here we are…not even 5 minutes into the movie…and I’m already annoyed.
In this film, the apes are being hunted by soldiers led by Woody Harrelson (known only as The Colonel). The mission seems to be fairly clear: hunt and kill. Soldiers are seen with ‘clever’ markings like “Monkey Killer” scribbled on their helmets that celebrate this fact. The primary target being, of course, Caesar. The war…could be going better. Caesar is a clever opponent and just when the soldiers believe they have the advantage he delves them a bloody nose. But Caesar has more problems than soldiers to worry about. Followers of the late Koba have deserted the troop, wait for opportunities to betray, or have, inexplicably, joined sides with the soldiers. Those in this category are the most puzzling of the bunch.
It would seem to me that Apes who possess a high degree of intelligence would understand that siding with an enemy who seeks the extermination of your species is…a poor decision. I even offered that perhaps these were a species of Ape that didn’t possess the same level of intelligence as Caesar and his bunch. But alas, that was not the case. These were supposedly smart Apes making a decision that given the specifics of the situation made absolutely no sense. So strong was the desire to draw an analogy between these Apes and certain humans at various points in history that Reeves was bound and determined to jam this square peg into an obviously round hole.
This occurs quite often in the film. But I digress.
It’s a betrayal by one these “Donkeys” that shifts the plot to its primary direction…such as it is.
A strategic hit is placed on Caesar and goes wrong, resulting in the death of his immediate family, killed by The Colonel himself. Caesar swears revenge and sends the rest of the group (or shrewdness) to a desert land discovered by his now, late son.
Fast forward a little and Caesar catches up with The Colonel only to discover that “somehow” the group that was sent off to safety was captured by The Colonel. I’m still trying to figure that one out. Naturally, given that the Apes can’t seem to catch a break in this film. Caesar is captured as well.
It’s at this point in the film, virtually the halfway mark, that it ceases to be a war movie and devolves into an uninspired prison flick. I leaned over to my movie partner and “whispered: You know Woody would have to do something extraordinarily stupid to lose to the apes at this point”.
And by Grabthar’s hammer, the manner of stupidity that ensued was nothing short of mind-blowing.
It was made clear by The Colonel that the apes could not live because they represented the end of mankind. We are given to believe that he possesses an: it’s us or them mentality. So it shouldn’t be a surprise when some of us were a little more than puzzled when The Colonel who somehow caught up to the escaping Apes…instead of killing them…captured them, and brought them to his stronghold. Nothing says I’m fighting against an enemy I believe I must destroy than capturing them…and making them…your slave workforce?
Send in the Tropes…
It’s at this point where we are treated to every hackneyed subjugation trope imaginable. Concentration camp movie tropes, POW movie tropes, Slave movie Tropes… you name it, we got it. Apes are put on harsh work details. Apes are starved. Apes are strung up on crosses. Apes who perform poorly or misbehave are whipped. There’s a scene where an Ape is getting whipped and Caesar who at this point we may as well call Jesus, balks and takes his place. As he receives his lashes I just knew they were going to pull a Denzel Washington in Glory (1989) moment and have a close up of a single tear fall down his face (I was wrong…they saved that tear for later). That’s how ham-fisted and telegraphic the movies writing and directing were. You could practically see the seams of where these soulless hacks stitched together beats from better films.
But let’s put aside the execution of this prison scenario. Does it make any kind of logical sense to begin with?
Apes are put in a position to become the dominant species on the planet.
Human slaves (the many different races over the centuries who have had the displeasure of being deemed such) were not seen as the ushers in of humankind’s extinction. They were seen as spoilers of war. Symbols of status. And in many instances an (arguably) economically viable workforce. Putting these Super Apes to work made about as much sense as trying to domesticate the Zebra or make an H.R. Giger Alien your butler. Seven shades of idiocy. Wholesale moronicism. Backyard buffoonery.
Please, be a guest at my facilities. Partake of my limited food stores. I give you leave to stage your inevitable uprising!
This Apes in Prison dynamic is played out for the remainder of the film. I haven’t seen a movie derail itself so badly and so completely since Howling III: The Marsupials. And…unsurprisingly, the Super Apes managed to outsmart the humans and get free.
All of this non-sense to ultimately reveal it was all an exercise in brain-dead idiocy. We learn that the Apes were kept alive because “The Colonel” has need of them. Why do you ask?
Well, he needs them to build a wall. That’s right. Apes are being whipped. Uprisings are being fostered. Caesar gets to play the role of Christ, Kunta Kinte, and Mahatma Gandhi for a fracken wall.
Wha -wha- what?
Because a large human army is coming to take him (The Colonel) down. Apparently, the Apes virus that killed most of the humans has mutated, rendering its victims literally speechless. (There were times during the viewing of this horror-show that I felt I, myself may have contracted it.) Any-who, The Colonel developed a rather controversial approach to this new chain of events. Anyone who is infected gets killed. Period. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. You get bullets and plenty of them. Evidently, someone on the other side has a bug up their butt about summary executions, but let’s move on. Let’s unpack this, as they say.
You capture an enemy who you believe’s very existence means the end of mankind and you spend time, energy and manpower running a prison camp for these individuals so that they can build you a ‘wall’ that may aid you against a large modern military force? Hmmn…
I can only imagine that The Colonel had contracted the virus long before he picked up the bald Raggedy Ann doll in Caesar’s cell because this plan is stupidity by the pound. What kind of wall do you think these Apes are going to build that’s going to prove to be nothing more than a minor annoyance to a modern army? Is this wall going to be 1 mile high and 2 miles thick? Is this supposed to be like that Game of Thrones wall? Because that’s pretty much what it would take, a wall of all walls and I don’t think this rag-tag, starving group of primates with their dusty boulders and wooden wenches is gonna quite muster it.
And sure enough, when you finally see the army arrive with its tanks and freaking HELICOPTERS you realize that this whole ordeal has just been a big waste of time. In-film and out. As I watch this so-called war brought to a close via the cold, white, blanket of Deus Ex Machina I remind myself that never again, will I be subjected to the work of Matt “The Hammer” Reeves.
Spider-senses are there for a reason, people. We owe it to ourselves to take advantage of them.
1 out of 5 stars