Film review: The War for the Planet of the Apes
Matt Reeves associates spirituality, compassion, empathy and morals to deliver a thought-provoking and soulful action drama
Spirituality, compassion, empathy and morals are not words you would immediately associate with a sci-fi franchise based on a conflict between humans and primates. But this is the triumph of concluding part of the rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy.
After directing 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, director Matt Reeves returns to helm part three and delivers a thought-provoking and soulful action drama. The humans still live in fear of an ‘Ape-Pocalypse’ but they are also divided among themselves.
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The battle lines are zigzagging but any way you look at it, the apes are the enemy.Following the ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’ of a planet beset by Apes, in this third part, with Koba having been eliminated, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is the new leader of the apes. Unlike Koba, Caesar seeks a peaceful coexistence for his kind. But their settlement is constantly challenged and upset by a merciless Colonel (Woody Harrelson).
Andy Serkis, the brand ambassador for motion capture (he was Gollum in The Lord of the Rings after all), delivers a phenomenal enactment of the ethical and powerful leader of the apes. As the speaking ape Caesar, torn by duty and desire for vengeance, he is the hero of the movie. In Harrelson he gets a worthy sparring partner, as the army leader driven by obsessive hatred. Their showdown unfolds on a set where action and atmosphere shunts between a version of ‘Apocalypse Now’ and primate-unfriendly ‘Mad Max’ territory.
The introduction of two new characters adds more emotional layers to the experience. Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who reflects the state of animals raised in domesticated captivity, offers comic relief and cuteness while Amiah Miller plays Nova, a mute human girl sheltered by Caesar’s A-team including orangutan Maurice and gorilla Rocket.
The primates in this third part are not simply primeval. They display clear empathy, human tendencies and hence have a huge relatability. In this war, you find yourself siding with the primal corner rather than the selfish, ammunition-dependent human army that is willing to destroy all in its path in order to ensure its own survival. There’s also the very obvious reference to the Holocaust in the way the Colonel commandeers a rogue army and runs concentration camps with apes put to work. Parallels can be drawn with any stronger regime on a colonising spree marching through more peaceful communities.
Deeply emotional, often spiritual and occasionally heart-breaking, The War for the Planet of the Apes rises to memorable standards and this comes in no small measure from the makers handling the material with veneration and Andy Serkis’ forceful performance