HEAVY SPOILERS! HEAVY SPOILERS!
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1. Focus on a few key points
|From Left to Right: Maurice (Karen Konoval) and Nova (Amiah Miller)|
If you go into this film looking for an epic, the first-half is just that. Director Matt Reeves wastes no time placing the audience in the middle of chaos with an army of humans slowly making their way up a forest hill. They then approach an ape settlement and all hell breaks loose. Surprised by the attack, many apes die in battle, but the humans have the heaviest loss. Only a few live and are let go to show mercy and to end the war between humans and apes. The next few scenes show the hideout where Caesar has taken refuge with his family. Directly after, about 20 minutes in, we meet The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), who has infiltrated the secret base and killed Caesar's wife and first son. The film then becomes a revenge tale as Caesar sets off to find The Colonel. This is where the film diverts itself.
The only real major problem War has is not knowing what it wants to be. The second-half of the film is a prison film with Caesar and the other apes being captured by The Colonel. This works as a standalone story. The first-half works as a standalone story. Put together, War is a long and tiring film. Mix in some biblical references and it becomes even longer. War would work better if it was either a revenge tale or prison break story. Neither go well together, but both impress on their own.
2. Be careful on dialogue and exposition
|From Left to Right: Red (Ty Olsson) and The Colonel (Woody Harrelson)|
War has a lot to explain, because it's not working as a standalone film (we'll get back to this point). It follows up Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which had a lot happening. The first few pieces of dialogue between Caesar and the humans are merely exposition moments. However, this doesn't stop at the beginning of the film. A new virus is spreading through humans and the audience doesn't learn about it until the third act of the film. A new villain is introduced. Now we need backstory dialogue. The apes don't enjoy their place in the forest, so they are searching for a new home. The war for the planet of the apes isn't a war between apes and humans, but humans and humans. There's a lot that has to be talked about, and co-writers Reeves and Mark Bomback go heavy on the dialogue when explaining all these plot points.
Credit has to go to Reeves for not creating flashback scenes to explain stuff, but don't drag on with the exposition about this and that. Keep it short and let the audience fill in some blanks. That's usually the largest downside about blockbusters and sequels. Studios believe the target audience has no ability to fill in the blanks of a story, so they add on and on until the dialogue is stale and the story is bloated from exposition and backstory.
3. Make the story simple
|Red played by Ty Olsson. All pictures courtesy of 20th Century Fox|
Again, War has a lot to explain and a lot to cover, so it is usually dragged down by multiple stories competing for center stage. Reeves and Bomback try to create a compelling story that can stand alone and still focus on Caesar's journey. Unfortunately, so many things are happening that Caesar is sometimes lost in the conundrum of storytelling and effects. The perfect example is the second half of the film where Caesar is placed in prison. The side characters now step in and take charge. War also suffers from its predecessor. The film constantly has to remind the audience that this is a trilogy and not a standalone, but doubles back and tries making it a standalone. War doesn't know what it wants to be, which leads to an inconsistent story.
The third film in a trilogy usually has this problem. The Dark Knight Rises is a prime example of how threequels cannot succeed at being standalone films. The audience expects the film to tie into the first two. War would have been safe if it kept to the woods and introduced the villain a little later on in the film. Too many dramatic events occur at the beginning of the film that the audience's focus becomes lost on what type of story is exactly being told. Is it revenge? Is it a prison break? Is it war? Is it a hero's journey? It's a little bit of all four, but pieced together poorly.
The third film in a trilogy doesn't need a complex story or even a definite ending. Simple works because it's simple. A simple story can still be unique. War for the Planet of the Apes, and other threequels, need to keep that in mind.
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