War for the Planet of the Apes
Director – Matt Reeves
Cast – Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller
Rating – 4.5/5
Fifteen years ago, a virus called the Simian Flu all but wiped out humanity. It was because we interfered in matters we did not understand, and our arrogant belief that we could alter nature and escape unpunished.
But the virus had a side-effect. It made Simians – apes, chimps, monkeys of all sorts – evolve quicker than they were meant to. Soon, like most oppressed beings suddenly empowered, they fought back. They were led in that first battle by an ape named Caesar, who had seen the compassion mankind was capable of, but also the cruelty.
It’s been fifteen years since the fight on the Golden Gate Bridge, a fight the apes won, but after which they were forced to leave the dangerous cities. Caesar, battle-worn and scarred, has taken his apes, and his family, into the woods, where they lay in hiding, one eye always glancing over their shoulder for the last remnants of humanity to attack.
Word has travelled over the snowy mountains that a violent militia has been formed by a cruel man, a man who calls himself The Colonel, like Apocalypse Now’s Kurtz, utterly consumed by insanity. He has imprisoned hundreds of apes at his large compound, which lies at the foot of snowy, forested mountains. He makes them work, under his boot-heels, tamed to the sound of his whip. He has madness in his eyes, they say. A torn, tattered American flag hangs limply off his balcony, from where, like Schindler’s List’s Amon Göth, he surveys his kingdom through a lens.
He wants them to build a wall.
War for the Planet of the Apes is the rare blockbuster that arrives once, maybe twice every year. In 2017, we haven’t seen a better one since Logan, a film with which it shares several similarities – a hero driven by duty, a mute young girl whom he must protect, and a sombre tone that will surely test the patience of some audience members. But that’s what made me like it more.
With this, Matt Reeves has made his fourth, unquestionably great movie. His grip on the war movie tone, aided by stunning, almost biblically grand visuals and music by two Michaels, Seresin and Giacchino, firmly establish him as one of the finest directors working within the studio system today.
It might even be the first great post-human movie – for more reasons than one. Technically, because it signals the arrival of an era in cinema where human actors could quite possibly be made obsolete, and thematically, because it suggests that human beings are a scourge that needs to be destroyed.
Over the three films that span several decades, the Planet of the Apes reboot series tells an epic story of one creature’s rise, but it is also a Shakespearean tragedy – a cautionary tale that chronicles the slow death of an entire species: Mankind.
Our hubris, it suggests, is the reason behind our downfall. We have been led to believe, ever since we were little children, ignorant and malleable, that we are the apex predators, that we occupy the throne at the top of the food chain. This is a lie. We are simply at that stage in the evolution of our planet at which we happen to be the most intelligent life forms living on it. Faced with the prospect of billions of more years’ worth of evolution, we could easily be overtaken by an even more intelligent species – perhaps one of our own making.
Like Bong Joon-ho’s terrific Okja, a film that could very easily be its close cousin, War for the Planet of the Apes harbours an unshakable contempt for humanity. And along with its immediate predecessor, the quietly brilliant Dawn for the Planet of the Apes, it firmly believes that we are beyond redemption, and that the only thing to do is for us to gracefully die out.
But what are we without our fighting spirit? What are we without our silly delusions and false confidence? It’s what makes us human, dammit! So foolishly, we fight, even in the face of inevitable defeat, without realising – and this is crucial – that more often than not, we are the villains. In this particular situation, that face of inevitable defeat looks like an angry ape’s.
And what an intricate work of art it is. Crafted by hundreds of immensely talented people, sculpted around a flawless central performance by Andy Serkis, a maverick and a maven. If this doesn’t get him an Academy Award nomination, then we must rally the troops, and like a bunch of apes, protest till they start firing arrows at our sides, yelling ‘Apes, together, strong,’ till we die.