There was always going to be a large, ape shaped shadow cast over each entry in the rebooted franchise. That famous last scene to the original has damned them to be second best regardless of their quality. Matt Reeves and his cowriter missed a trick with the ending and lost out on a ending that could have rivalled the original.
Caesar and his ape brethren are forced to live a nomadic lifestyle. They cannot settle too long or the ruthless human hunting party led by Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) will slaughter them. His son returns from an expedition to find a new permanent home far away from San Francisco with the perfect candidate location. Many close to Caesar call for the immediate moving of the colony but he refuses, a move that costs the life of his wife and son and the eventual capture of the entire colony except him and his key advisors such as Maurice.
Whilst trying to seek revenge, he is himself captured and brought before McCullough, with his punishment among other things being to listen to an exhaustive lecture. It detailed the current state of mankind and a new disease which ironically turns people into what the primates were before ALZ-112. Harrelson tries with all his might to inject his lifeless lines with vigour but although he performs admirably, by far the most complex villain of the trilogy, it never quite materialises into anything more than a plot device for exposition. Having said that the manner in which he meets his demise was impressively well executed.
The plot was let down in other areas too such as its circumstantial development. When Caesar is tracking McCullough he tails the soldiers from afar. Three times in succession he gains the exact information he needs in the dying breath of both friend and foe. This manner of writing is unoriginal and chokes the life out of the narrative, detracting from the immersion Reeves tries to envelop the viewer in. Reeves should be praised however for using heavy themes such as concentration camps, slavery and biblical imagery. This coupled with the distinct lack of dialogue for large portions of the film make this a blockbuster film unlike any other. It tackles real issues, taking risks in the process.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a noticeable improvement on both its predecessor. Even the CGI which has been phenomenal so far got better with Maurice looking as real as his human counterparts. The biggest criticism I have it one that runs through all three films but is most prevalent here. Besides the small girl there were only a couple of female actresses peppered in the background of the film, and the only racial diversity was an albino silverback gorilla named Winter. How can a film that preaches togetherness, equality and acceptance of differences have so little gender and racial diversity?
From this point I will talk about my proposed alternate ending so there will be major spoilers, continue at your own peril. As the apes are escaping the stronghold during the human battle, the faction from the north are victorious. They watch the stronghold explode from outside its gates, thousands upon thousands of men. Caesar stands on a large boulder and they all turn to face him, each dressed in snow camouflage with masks covering their faces. Instead of an avalanche coming down the mountain and killing them all, and the tepid ending that follows, I would have liked to see Caesar rise up and roar. A roar that releases his anger about his wife and son’s death, his anger at his fellow ape’s slavery and murder, and the sadness at what a refusal of peace had cost him. Every member of the army in front of him would begin to remove their masks and camouflage to reveal themselves to be apes. Beginning one by one, then en masse, they put both arms in the air to form the together strong symbol. The camera pans across, showing thousands of apes forming the symbol before cutting to credits.
Some minor changes would have to be made in terms of the narrative in order to make this a watertight ending but the capacity for shock and awe is massive. Not only that but it will give the trilogy something it currently lacks, a reason to re-watch. Over 6 hours of film, multiple large scale battles and innumerable casualties for them to simply to move away from San Francisco. It was always going to be difficult to achieve what the original did for a climax, but it is hard not to be disappointed with how Reeves chose to conclude the series.