Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

19 August 2017

Once More with Too Many Feelings

For the record, I loved the first of these movies, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I really really liked the second one, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. (I wrote an entire post about how the film thinks about justifying violence; the movie is very interesting.) This means, of course, that I am the target audience of Matt Reeves' third movie, War for the Planet of the Apes, since I already love the characters, already care about the fate of the apes, and am hoping the humans can leave them alone to live in peace. (Rupert Wyatt directed Rise; Reeves directed Dawn and War.)

Reviews of this third movie were good, so I was excited. But War falls mostly flat. It is a slow, ponderous type of thing that follows the conventions of 19th century melodrama to a tee. This means that all of the emotions in it are overdone, everything is milked for the absolute last drop of feeling that can be squeezed out of it. This is supposed to be an action movie, and it does have some good action sequences in it, but Reeves is not focused on action as much as he is focused on the feelings of everyone involved in the action. So even when we are in an action sequence, we get shots of sad chimps, looking wistfully at the camera and dreaming of better days or a world without action. All of this kind of thing slows us down, and it takes Reeves forever to do what he's trying to do.

The small, tearful, white child up on Caesar's horse stands in for all of this movie's many many feelings.

The other problem with War is that it is too intent on meaning. It takes itself extremely seriously (à la nineteenth-century melodrama). The other movies were serious too, don't get me wrong, but now that we are in a third movie, Reeves has decided that what the films are about is racism and not animals. To be sure, both topics are about the ways that we exclude people from the category of the human, but the first two movies told us a story and let us make sense of what the movies had to say. Not War. War makes explicit allegories about nationalism and Steve Bannon and the alt-right. Worse than that, the film simply tells us all what we already know about racist white supremacist without using the allegory of apes to see if there's anything new we might learn about the logic of neo-Nazism.

Still, the allegories aren't really the problem. What the allegories do is contribute even further to the slowing down of the entire pace of War. The real problem is the slow pacing of Reeves' staging and his sentimental treatment of every moment of feeling so that what could be a simple moment turns into a four-minute sequence. What could have been a good, tight, 117-minute movie became instead a 140-minute Spielberg melodrama with chimps.