This reboot of the 1960s-1970s classic sci-fi/action/adventure series has proven to be a remarkable achievement from the moment it caught moviegoers by surprise with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes back in 2011, to the intense Dawn in 2014.
Not just in terms of the visuals, as motion-capture and CGI techniques conjured up some amazingly realistic ape action and emoting, but also in the way it has captured the heart and soul of both its ape and human characters to levels of profoundness that action-adventure yarns usually have no business plumbing.
War, the concluding part of the trilogy, brings the saga of the super-intelligent ape named Caesar (Andy Serkis) to a close in a way that elevates his journey, from being just a struggle for survival to the deliverance of a people from oppression.
While I was curious to see how – or if – this final film would tie in to the original 1968 Planet Of The Apes (referenced in news items seen throughout Rise), I suddenly realised while watching it how closely it parallels a different Charlton Heston classic altogether.
On the surface, it appears to be a clash of wills between Caesar and a ruthless Special Forces Colonel (Woody Harrelson, referred to as just “The Colonel” throughout) who is determined to exterminate apekind.
Both Caesar and The Colonel have simple motivations, though tellingly it is the apes’ struggle that indicates a higher order of thinking – yearning, almost – while the humans are driven by a more primal and basic impulse.
Unlike in the original run of films, where the struggle culminated in a more or less straightforward clash between the factions, things are more complicated here.
War does not unfold in the way you initially think it will, surprising the viewer with every few steps it takes. Sometimes, situations resolve themselves in gentler ways than we imagined. At other times, even the obvious is given a different enough spin to make it seem fresh.
In the Planet Of The Apes canon – established early on, right in the original 1968 film – we already saw the bleak fate that awaits humanity.
War builds on the dismantling of human civilisation begun in Rise and Dawn to show mankind much further down that spiral.
And while this new trilogy has been more sympathetic to the apes than it has been to humanity, War throws a little mute human girl (Amiah Miller) into the mix to remind us that hey, we’re not so bad after all, as long as … well, maybe the film is also making a statement when you consider what kind of conditions are needed to make us “not so bad after all”.
Truth be told, the kid aside, there’s not much else about the humanity on display here to make us hairless apes feel particularly proud of ourselves.
Like its two predecessors, War holds up a distortion-free mirror for us to look in and reflect a little on what, if anything, truly sets us apart from the beasts.
And how easily, if a challenge to our imagined superiority arises from a species considered to be inferior, we so readily drop a few rungs down the evolutionary ladder to meet it and beat it into submission (or oblivion).
With most of the humans in this film all too ready to take that plunge, then, the core of War becomes the struggle of Caesar himself to rise above the hatred that burns in him as a result of Man’s actions. And it’s not an easy climb for the leader, bearing as he does the weight of his entire fledgling civilisation upon his shoulders.
War could have used some tightening in the bridging of its second and third acts, but otherwise, it truly does give a suitably lofty feel to Caesar’s struggle.
Excellent on most levels – from the deeply affecting expressiveness of its actors to the cleverly-worked-in Easter eggs to its superlative (and quite atypical) Michael Giacchino score – War is once again proof that summer movies can be both sprawling and thoughtful, and that the inner conflict of an individual can be every bit as epic as the clash of armies and armadas.
In addition to enthralling moviegoers, it is also recommended remedial education material for the purveyors of empty spectacle who prize explosions over engagement.
War For The Planet Of The Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Amiah Miller, Toby Kebbel