The Planet of the Apes has been a part of our collective culture for almost 50 years, we know the classic lines “Get your paws off me you damned dirty ape”, and that reveal of the statue of Liberty scene (spoilers for a 50-year-old movie). Since then our ability to render talking apes has gotten better to the point where when watching a little movie called War for the Planet of the Apes, the third film in the recent reboot/prequel trilogy I was bowled away by the way that CGI fur was interacting with water. However, beyond the amazing motion-capture animation does War really have anything to offer?
Men and Apes are at war. The unstable peace that had been formed in the second film was now completely irreparable. Ceaser, the leader of the Apes, tries to find a new home for his kind. However, the leader of a hardline military unit, called the Colonel, kill Ceaser’s family and takes his tribe captive; it is up to Ceaser to free his people and himself. In the background a new strain of Simian flu has begun to infect the surviving members of the human race, leaving them mute.
The new Planet of the Apes series has always been spectacular in its special effects and the performances behind the simians, and it is no different in War. Andy Serkis has perhaps powered the franchise through his portrayal of Ceaser and his status as the foremost motion-capture actor. Behind him, the other actors do a tremendous job in their roles as various kinds of apes, especially Steve Zahn, from Dallas Buyers club, as Bad Ape, the wide-eyed dose of comedy, in and amongst the copious tragedy. It is truly uncanny the level of realism that this film has given to its talking monkeys. Obviously, it isn’t perfect, you can still tell it’s a Computer generated animal in the details and moves, but in the quieter stiller shots, it is a beautiful thing to behold.
It is always the spectacle of the prequel Rise/Dawn/War Planet of the Apes movies that have had most of the attention from critics. Many have not addressed the narrative construction of a series of films where the outcome is guaranteed and because the narrative of a prequel trilogy must always lead into the narrative of the original film it, therefore, feels a little determined. We know where the story is going, and the whole franchise has been about getting us to the Charlton Heston movie, Planet of the Apes, and with the introduction of a cause for the human’s primitivization revealed in War the worlds fate is sealed.
That is not to say that because you know where the story is going, the franchise has been a complete waste. There is enough action and drama in the journey to make it a compelling ride, especially in the interactions between Ceaser and Woody Harrelson’s unhinged Colonel, who by the way is a joy to watch. However, I think this fact of inevitability leads to a profound sense of tension. You wait for something bad to happen because you know it will, there is a dread, a feeling that there is no control over any situation that Ceaser thinks he is in control of and when the film closes it feels more like a series of Shakespearean tragedies rather than a film about a talking ape.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a solum trudge toward the inevitable Planet of the Apes. However this is not a negative thing, it infects the narrative with a gravitas and poignancy as Ceaser is transformed from Ape to legend. Despite the dower tone, it has enough action, comedy and engaging characters to make this the perfect final chapter in a series of great movies.
You Can Watch War for the Planet of the Apes in Cinemas now