20th Century Fox/Chernin Entertainment
Directed by Matt Reeves
Produced by Peter Chernin/Dylan Clark/Rick Jaffa/Amanda Silver
Written by Mark Bomback/Matt Reeves
Based on characters created by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
If you asked me what was the main thing that I took away from WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES it would be this: that this is now the movie I point to as The example that a movie can be done with extensive CGI that does more than give us outrageous explosions, outlandish aliens and magnificently imaginative spaceships and planets. It’s astounding that a movie whose primary characters are apes can infuse them so much humanity. And Andy Serkis as Caesar is nothing less than incredible. I’m adding my voice to those of others that say he should get an Academy Award for his acting. Because it IS acting. Andy Serkis gives Caesar more of range of emotions and clarity of vision than many human actors I’ve seen in movies this year so far. It’s a movie that embraces a variety of genres. It’s science fiction, of course. But it’s also a war film (that doesn’t pull any punches) turns into a Western for a good part of the middle when Caesar and a motley band of apes set out on horseback on a ride of vengeance through a snowy landscape and in the concluding act turns into a Biblical epic with Caesar becoming a combination of Jesus Christ and Moses for Apekind.
Caesar and his tribe of apes have established a home and base camp in the Muir Woods, claiming it as their territory and only wanting to be left alone. But they are under continual siege from The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and his private army, Alpha-Omega. Caesar offers peace but The Colonel isn’t interested and during a raid, Caesar’s wife and oldest son are killed. Driven by grief and rage, Caesar sends his tribe away to a far distant land of plenty located past a desert. Here is where Caesar hopes his tribe will live in peace. He himself grabs a shotgun, saddles up and goes riding after The Colonel, hellbent on revenge. He intends to go it alone, figuring he won’t come back but Maurice (Karin Konoval) the wise orangutan who is his chief advisor/counselor. Rocket (Terry Notary) a chimpanzee who acts as his second-in-command and Caesar’s muscle, the gorilla Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) insist on joining him.
The four set out and along the way encounter a mute young human girl (Amiah Miller) and amazingly, another chimp who can talk, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) Both have been affected by a mutated version of The Simian Flu. It’s no longer killing humans but it’s making them mute and regressing their intelligence to the point where humans will be no more than beasts. At the same time it’s making simians smarter and giving more and more of them the ability to speak. The development adds a whole new level to the war between the species, upping the ante considerably. The mute girl and Bad Ape join Caesar’s group and their aid proves to be both surprising and valuable as Caesar is captured by The Colonel and engages in a war not only of wills but ideologies as each one seeks to preserve their species. The truly sad thing about the situation is that there seems to be no way at all for them to live together in peace. The entire situation between man and ape has gone way too far for way too many reasons.
There’s a great scene where The Colonel explains his motivations for his war against apes and when you hear it you can understand why he does what he does. The whole conflict between him and Caesar reminded me of the clash of wills between Sessue Hayakawa and Alec Guinness in “The Bridge on The River Kwai” (I was waiting for a scene where the apes go to work grunting the “Colonel Bogey” march) Woody does get a chance to go full-blown Colonel Kurtz a couple of times and thus making this the second ape-themed movie this year that takes a lot of inspiration from “Apocalypse Now.”
In fact, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is one of the few movies I’ve seen this year where I can honestly say I didn’t have a complaint about any of the acting. Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape is a wonderful simian version of a typical Steve Zahn character and does an excellent job of providing comedy without diluting any of the movie’s suspense.
Keep your eyes open for Easter Eggs as there’s a whole buncha them to look out for but don’t let that get in the way of you paying attention to what’s right up there on the screen. This trilogy of APES films (which I’m already seeing is being referred to as “The Caesar Trilogy”) is one of the best I’ve ever seen. All of them are memorable in various ways. They’re entertaining but also make you think and have something to say about human nature. They manage to be both excellent popcorn movies and discussion stimulating science fiction. I’ve read that a fourth APES movie is in the works and I sincerely hope they take up the story maybe a generation later as the story of Caesar, the story of a founder of a civilization should stand alone and not be (sorry, I couldn’t resist) monkeyed with. By all means, go see and enjoy.