War For The Planet Of The Apes was mis-sold as a war movie instead of the excellent character drama it is


Spoilers ahead:
The art of making trailers has progressed quite a lot but sometimes I wonder if the director and writer of the movie ever bother talking to whoever is making the trailer to make sure they capture the essence of the movie right. I’m not very familiar with the industry but I think whoever made the trailer for this movie wanted to create a really short film based on their own ideas about what the story should be rather than give a teaser for the real one. Every trailer for War For The Planet Of The Apes hyped up a war that Caesar didn’t start but means to finish. In fact that exact line is repeated in every single trailer. In the actual movie however, he only says “I didn’t start this war”. He never says “but I will finish it” unless it was part of a deleted scene which we haven’t seen yet. The posters were equally misleading, such as the one at the beginning of this post.

How can anyone look at that poster and not expect an epic battle between humans and apes? But this scene never happens. There is never a single sequence in the whole movie that has two armies facing off in this way. There is a skirmish in the jungle in the beginning but nothing like this.

Critics have been raving about this movie, definitely with good reason but none of the reviews talk about how the audience might be disappointed because they went for a movie that blatantly promised war and just did not have it. I saw this movie twice but the first time I watched it, I sat through every scene waiting for the series of events that would prompt Caesar to lead his men apes into an all out war, something he had always been reluctant to do so far. I wanted to see what could make a pacifist go to war. What made him think it is necessary? What I found out is- nothing does. Caesar never wanted war and he still doesn’t go to war with his apes. He embarks on a personal quest for revenge. He tries to go alone but Maurice, Rocket and a new gorilla Luca forcibly accompanies him on his quest. There are beautiful set pieces and a great new character by the name of ‘bad ape’ along the way but I sat through the entirety of the movie waiting for a battle sequence I thought is just around the corner, not because I was desperate to see an ape-human war but because that was what they freaking sold!!

Its like a restaurant ran ads and put up billboards showing great chinese food and when you go in and order and finally get your food, its Indian food. I love Indian food. I’m not apathetic about Indian food but don’t freaking give me Indian food when you told me you serve Chinese and I ordered Chinese while under that belief. It doesn’t matter if the food is delicious. You’ll just keep chewing and thinking this isn’t what you ordered. That’s exactly what happened through the entire course of this movie. I grudgingly liked it but kept feeling like I was lied to. But the parts that I liked, especially the acting was so amazing that I went and watched it a second time. The second time around, its like I went for Indian food and got great Indian food, so from here onwards, the review is based on my second watch.

First of all, let’s start with a more accurate poster


The ‘war’ bit is still kind of misleading but think of it as Caesar’s personal battle- the war for his soul. This image is more representative of that. It’s all about Caesar. It always has been. The story started with him and ends with him. In the third act, Caesar pays for his kindness and his pacifism. He shows mercy and lets the humans who attacked the ape stronghold go, and they reward him by sending the bogeyman after him and his family. Caesar loses his wife and firstbon son in a sequence that is horrifying not in spite of gore, but because of the lack of it. The camera zooms in on Caesar and the Colonel and follows Caesar’s slow, disbelieving eyes as it pans from the Colonel to his victims. The camera shows you the bodies lying at the dark edge of Caesar’s peripeheral vision without lingering there or showing them in better focus. Its somehow more horrifying because you are Caesar in that moment and his disbelief is yours as well.

This clarity and realism is maintained throughout the movie. We want Caesar to go to war like Koba did in Dawn but he doesn’t. We want him to ride against the colonel and the humans in fury, forgetting that we too are humans but he doesn’t. He behaves exactly as Caesar would, if you had bothered to get inside the character’s head over the last two movies. He does go looking for revenge but he doesn’t drag everyone else into his personal vendetta. That’s just not who he is. However, as the movie goes on to show, if you are a leader for whom wounded comrades move each other out of your path for, leaving them and going on a personal quest is a crime as well, another mistake Caesar comes to regret. In fact, the movie is full of Caesar’s mistakes and how he pays for them. If you wanted to see Caesar at his commanding best, you should have seen Dawn For The Planet Of The Apes again. This movie is about his fall and how he still manages to finish his journey and save his apes in spite of his weariness.

Another thing you might notice through the movie is that Caesar’s friends seem to take the lead a lot more than before. It’s not always him saving the day. Maurice repeatedly tells him its a mistake to go for revenge instead of sticking with his people and he is proved to be right. Rocket saves Caesar more than once and is forever ready to do whatever Caesar wants, whether he is in a position to articulate it or not. Rocket, who once bullied Caesar in the animal shelter a lifetime ago doesn’t hesitate to give himself up to save the little girl, just because it looked like Caesar wanted to save her and couldn’t from his cage. Its not Caesar who makes the moral choice of taking the human girl along with them instead of leaving her for dead. That again was Maurice, acting as Caesar’s moral compass while he struggles to find north on his. Although it might be less satisfying than seeing Caesar in charge of everything, I loved how believable this is. Caesar started a revolution and built a community. Part of what makes him so formidable is how well loved he is for everything he’s done. When Caesar is irrational and lost after his personal tragedy, the history of his good deeds help because there are people to step up as he spirals downwards. The series has always depicted its hero navigating an unforgiving landscape with just his wits but in its last act it showed how history matters and how relationships matter. That good deeds don’t always get forgotten in a hurry or lose value over time.

In a way the movie was about the inner struggle of three characters- Caesar, Red the gorilla that joined the humans and battles his self loathing and the Colonel. The Colonel seems to have less of an inner struggle but that ends up being his fatal flaw. He frequently claims that he is clear about his purpose and mocks Caesar for being emotional and unclear in his but in the end his rigidity turns out to be his downfall. The Colonel chooses to follow a ruthless ideology of showing no mercy to any simian or human that threatens the future of his species but in the end, it’s the kindness of the apes towards a human child that kills him. Its not Caesar who triumphs in the climatic moment, it’s Red, the traitor who does. From the beginning, you can see Red’s struggle in his eyes as his fellow apes get gunned down with his assistance. He once followed Koba in his warped but purposeful struggle against humans for apes but he now just serves as a donkey to save himself, and you can see that he hates himself for it. He is unnecessarily cruel towards Caesar because he hates Caesar for still having a moral compass while he’s lost his. But in the end Caesar’s vision wins out, not because of Caesar being in command right then, but because of the example he has set till then and the path he has shown.

I don’t deny that there is a part of me who still wanted a battle in the end. Some way to see Caesar on top for a while, just a little while, but then I remembered that life isn’t always that convenient. We have got so used to trilogies that end with a bang and with the hero on top. In real life, in any person’s life, they rise, they dominate and then they fade. We can only hope that what we did before that was good enough to see us through the end. The odd thing is that we needed a story about apes to remind us of that.

Overall rating: 8.5/10, 0/10 for the marketing team who obviously has no clue what the movie is about


2 thoughts on “War For The Planet Of The Apes was mis-sold as a war movie instead of the excellent character drama it is

  1. Nice perspective….I had the exact feeling after watching yesterday..no war at all….could have given more attention to the simian virus and how it proliferates…. Felt so much promise went waste with a hurried ending.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really liked the movie when I watched it the second time with the right expectations. Try watching it again and you might feel different. How they market it is very important. There was an old Malayalam movie which was quite good and funny but everyone went expecting an army movie from the ads and it flopped big time


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