‘I’ ON CULTURE
Things move very fast in the exciting War for the Planet of the Apes movie, which is the third in the excellent remake of the original series. Of course, the series has always has been a metaphor about the violence and stupidity of many members of the human race, but it works on all levels. Using animals as a substitute for humans in the tradition of Rabelais, Swift and Orwell, writers can put human craziness under a microscope, and the results are not always pleasant.
For those who missed the earlier films, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is a super-intelligent ape, created by human scientists. Easily escaping their control, he tries to help his fellow apes and winds up a target. Quickly gaining recruits, he returns fire and has all varieties of apes working for him.
Things do not go well for the apes, but Koba, the war leader who wants genocide for humans, is killed by Caesar. Caesar wants peace, essentially for the apes to be left alone on a world that no longer is crowded by billions of people. Eventually, however, Caesar is forced to respond to all the killing with his own violence, taking vengeance into his own hands.
By the time the movie starts, 15 years after the last one left off, there are not many humans alive thanks to the “simian flu.” Led by a vicious Colonel (Woody Harrelson), those left are out to kill all the apes in the Northwest United States. Adding to the problem is a strain of virus that removes the power of speech from people.
On the other hand, there are “donkey” apes who work for the Colonel, having been promised mercy. Others are simply slaves. As an added complication, the Colonel is more than a bit of a rebel, sort of a Colonel Kurtz of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now fame.
Filmmaker Matt Reeves focuses more on the apes in terms of emotions and life. It works well. The humans are becoming simpler while a few of the apes have learned to speak instead of using the sign language from the earlier films. For those who remember the first of all the films, the one starring Charlton Heston, eventually it will be the apes who speak and run the civilization with mute human slaves.
The apes, in essence, are the people in the film. Their relationships are the ones that are important. The humans are generally played simplistically. For almost all, this is a genocidal war, while Caesar really would prefer to live in peace, although he is eventually forced to fight, and does so superbly.
Serkis gives another of his brilliant performances. Yes, his face is transformed digitally, but his body language, his voice and his expressions (which are transformed into Caesar’s digitally) are superb. He is the center of the film, the Abe Lincoln of the apes. Serkis has played a key role in two trilogies: Lord of the Rings and this one. Perhaps a special Academy Award should be given, because his work is incredible. It is not easy to play such a thoughtful, essentially (please pardon the expression) human within the body of an ape. But without his performance, the movie could never work.
The other apes, his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer), as well as Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Rocket (Terry Notary), his closest companions, are also exceptional. Special kudos to Notary as the movement specialist of all apes for the film. The leads move so realistically that everything is believable.
Harrelson is excellent as the Colonel, one of the few nuanced human characters. But he and the other humans seem to share so little in terms of any emotion except hate that all our sympathy goes to the other side. Add to that some real atrocities done to the apes, and it is easy to choose sides — against ourselves!
This is an apocalypse-style film, one leading to the end of the world, or at least the collapse of civilization. We know that eventually it will be a world run by the apes, and we can note all the horrors the humans have brought down on themselves. It is a searing indictment, and it is very well done. This is not a movie for kids. The atrocity level makes Game of Thrones seem like Beauty and the Beast.
This is a solid action movie, a good summer film. But, be warned, there are few laughs and more than a few horrors.