I’ll just go ahead and say it: War for the Planet of the Apes is the smartest movie to come out this summer, and arguably one of this year’s best. It’s a story rooted in choice and consequence, where every action drives the plot forward in dramatically interesting ways. And beyond its brilliant story, the movie brings sharp sound design and a distinct eye for visual detail.
That’s right; War is a testament to the strength of remarkable film craft!
War for the Planet of the Apes begins in the woods, where Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the other apes are hiding from a military faction called Alpha-Omega. But as the ape colony prepares to migrate away from the humans, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) kills Caesar’s family in a surprise attack. Vowing revenge against the Colonel, Caesar plans to kill him and put an end to the war.
It’s been a long journey for this film franchise, which first started in 1968 with Planet of the Apes. The sci-fi classic starred Charlton Heston in a cautionary tale on how nuclear war will be the end of human civilization. While the movie is remembered for its ending, there was a novelty to a plot about a planet where humans are no longer the dominant species.
Fast-forward through a bunch of trashy sequels (and an even trashier Tim Burton remake) to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a gritty Apes movie that takes place in the near future with morally complex characters. The biggest surprise from Rise was how it takes the silly premise from the original Planet of the Apes and turns it into a parable about the meaning of humanity.
And in essence, that’s what the entire trilogy is about. Humanity.
War for the Planet of the Apes follows Caesar as he struggles to be a compassionate leader. The ghost of Koba still haunts him, and Caesar wrestles with his violent inclinations. His attempts at mercy often lead to heavy casualties, and he must make difficult decisions if he intends to save the apes from war. It is only with the help of close friends that he is able to persevere.
Out of all his friends, Maurice (Karin Konoval) is definitely the most important. He brings out Caesar’s humanity, especially during difficult times. For instance, when Caesar tells his friends how he must kill the Colonel, Maurice simply responds, “You sound exactly like Koba.”
Only a true friend like Maurice will tell it like it is.
The Colonel is also more complex than he appears. What was ostensibly a malevolent villain turns out to be a ruthless pragmatist who wants to keep the world under the dominion of humans. As the Simian Flu mutates, it begins to affect the surviving humans. The Colonel simply wishes to cleanse the world of this sickness by killing those infected by it. The apes are just a byproduct of this issue, a competitor to human superiority. If humans are going to remain the dominant species, they must eradicate all the sentient apes in order to do so.
As the Colonel himself describes: “You are impressive. Smart as hell. You’re stronger than we are. But you’re taking this all much too personally. So emotional!”
Of course, The Colonel not only has to contend with sick people and apes, he also has to deal with rival military factions. Hoping to escape the cruelty of the Colonel, deserters have fled to other factions in hopes of finding a cure to the mutated Simian Flu. The Colonel, however, doesn’t believe that science will cure the disease. He only believes in the power of his absolute authority.
Is War supposed to be an allegory on America? While it’s not quite as overt as Get Out, the implications are there. A trigger-happy fraternity (with its stereotypical Greek-letter name) worships a merciless skinhead that intends to purge the world of what they consider to be an inferior species. In this cult, might makes right, and they will cleanse their ranks of all who are sick and weak. They believe that their ignorance is worth more than your knowledge.
Is this what America has become? A militarized state that embraces anti-intellectualism, fascism and torture?
Beyond the parallels to our society, War is a cinematic feast for the eyes and ears. The film is dripping with detail, beginning in the rain-soaked wilderness as the humans engage in guerrilla warfare (or gorilla warfare, perhaps?) and ending in a desolate wasteland of ice and snow.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a modern masterpiece, and part of a great movie trilogy. This might sound bananas, but just watch it for yourself. The film comes together in a way that just clicks. With their fists raised, the apes speak for themselves: “Apes together strong!”