War for the planet of the apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller
THE war has been building up in this reboot franchise, and to one inexorable end. In this third — and clearly by far the last — film, there are no greys and blacks anymore. There is one and only one beast, and it isn’t the one living in the jungle.
First, director Rupert Wyatt, and then Reeves, in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, had a great run getting us here. Especially the second film where this battle, like all great battles, had morality and venality, pathos and valour, and above all regrets. War for the Planet of the Apes is a solemn, sincere attempt, but it never soars to the level of a war, never happens on the stage of a planet, and never gets us rooting for the largely hapless apes. It is an impressive film, technologically astounding, and it is a hard-working film, with the camera striving to capture every puff of the nostril of its apes (motion-capture performance at its finest). But that doesn’t necessarily make it a particularly great film.
We left the story last time with the humans and apes ranged against each other. The attempts of the leader of the apes, Caesar (Serkis), to appeal to the good sense of all have failed. Caesar was a hero in the grandest tradition in Dawn…, honourable, brave and tragic. War… begins with the apes forced deep into the woods and being hunted down by the humans, led by a Colonel whose reputation precedes him, literally. We hear just his voice at first, egging his men on to find the legendary Caesar.
In the film’s most menacing scene, the Colonel (Harrelson), soon himself descends during the course of a night, and kills Caesar’s family. Caesar, who has so far strived to put emotions like revenge and anger at bay, now makes it a personal battle with Colonel, putting the lives of the apes at risk. So far, we can keep in step with the many allegories Reeves is tossing around here, including the wars humans wage on people they dub “beasts”, the hunt through dense, confusing forests for an undefined “enemy”, and who is to be called a “savage”. While some of those comparisons flowed naturally in Dawn…, Reeves literally spells them out here. Even revenge is an emotion one understands.
However, as the film goes on, it just keeps adding more references, to no apparent avail. The Colonel is a shaven-head, half-mad, rogue autonomous authority functioning in the middle of the jungle (yes, Apocalypse Now). He keeps the apes in concentration camp-like conditions, talks about having sacrificed his son, about killing many men for fear of a plague, and of having achieved purity in the process (Bible, Hitler, the list goes on). In case we don’t get it, a sign in one of the tunnels spells it out, ‘Ape-Pocalypse Now’. The apes are branded with A as well as the alpha sign — these are everywhere — as well as the word donkey. The humans also refer to them, always, as ‘Donkey’. Why not just monkey?
No one asks that question. Meanwhile, Caesar’s gang, including the wise Maurice (Konoval), picks up an orphaned, mute girl (Miller) and a scared ‘zoo ape’ (Zahn), as it tries to find the Colonel. They are the only two people who stand out from the crowd in the film, without adding anything to the story in any comprehensive manner.
The War… also doesn’t build up to any grand climax. Just when there seems the possibility of one, it opts for an end that can’t even revel in its own doom as, surely, there is more ahead.