WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
Starring Andy Serkis, Karin Konoval, Devyn Dalton, Michael Adamthwaite, Terry Notary, Judy Greer, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Woody Harrelson
Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves
Based on characters created for the rebooted trilogy by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Inspired by the original novel “Planet of the Apes” by Pierre Boulle
Produced by Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Cinematography by Michael Seresin
Edited by William Hoy and Stan Salfas
Music by Michael Giacchino
“War for the Planet of the Apes” is an impressive, rousing, stirring, intelligent and entertaining science fiction film that is not only an above-average film in general, but a movie that marks several notable achievements—the movie is a strong third film in a trilogy, which doesn’t usually occur in any type of trilogy; the movie completes a modern-day reboot trilogy that actually consists of three strong, above-average rebooted films–which rarely occurs and is an astounding single achievement on its own level; and the film is an above-average science fiction summer blockbuster that is not a superhero, comic book or video game movie! Thus, “War…” is not notable not just for being a strong film, but for proving that—sometimes, just sometimes—reboots and even reboot trilogies can be successful if careful, smart, diligent—and creative, talented and original—care is taken to make sure that each film retains strong writing, direction, production values and acting. “War…” succeeds on these basic filmic levels—writing, direction, production and acting—in numerous ways that merits notice and viewing in the theaters during the summer of 2017.
First, supporting that strong, intelligent and film-homage-laden script by inventive and film-history-savvy screenwriters Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves, who also directs with equally-inventive and equally film-devotion intelligence and diligence to imparting insightful messages, themes, morals and lessons, is a very strong cast of actors who not only turn in superior performances, but who also act well in many scenes amid layers of complicated, difficult-for-actors stop-motion, computer graphic, green screen and special effects nuances that compliment, and don’t overtake, those performances. Yes, it’s nothing new in 2017 for actors in big-budget science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, horror and even action-adventure films to act amid surroundings full of special effects, green or blue screens, computer technicians, and other computer, special, visual and special effects, but it’s still worth noting, no matter how often it now occurs, when actors turn in strong performances amid all of the requisite special and visual and computer effects. It’s not necessarily easy for actors to really act when they’re facing a green screen in a stark studio with maybe no other actors around them, or perhaps the actors are present—but not in their eventual on-screen surroundings, and perhaps not even in costume or make-up or with props. Actors in the “Apes” movies and other big-budget science fiction, fantasy, horror and supernatural films are often acting in unusual, unnatural and quite non-organic situations that test even the best actors—and eventually show those actors’ true acting talents when the final performances transcend the technical difficulties and simply portray a character, complete with emotions, feelings, varying voice inflection, facial expressions that resonate—and genuine character, mood, ambiance and character development, story development and plot development.
Thus, the lead actors in “War for the Planet of the Apes” accomplish this to an amazing degree, considering that most of the lead actors in this film are human actors hidden by computer-generated-imagery, make-up, prosthetics and special effects wizardry and portrayed as varying types of apes—their human faces and bodies, of course, are never seen—and, indeed, these characters are apes in a most realistic, amazing manner, every second. And in this film and its predecessors, 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and 2011’s “Rise of the Plane of the Apes”—-these are indeed the very best portrayals of living, breathing, emoting, caring—and human-like—apes in film history. Although, as noted, all three of these “Apes” movies are successful rebooted films that do achieve and succeed on many levels, it must be noted that all three films are indeed bolstered by the continual improvements in film special effects technology. There is, again, never a moment in “War,” or in “Dawn” and “Rise” when the viewer doubts that they are watching various apes on screen.
Leading an outstanding cast of actors—and, really, the impressive acting is the major filmic aspect that carries, lifts and propels “War” forward throughout the film more–is the always-impressive Andy Serkis, who has seemingly effortlessly—although it does take much effort, as Serkis would agree—has become the modern-day Lon Cheney in a succession of sci-fi and fantasy films. In “War,” Serkis simply carries the movie—his voice, his movements, his eyes, his emotions, his overall acting portray a heroic, pained, conflicted, highly intelligent, and, at times, confused, torn and divided leader of a group of apes who have evolved to the point where, really, they are equals to—some would say far better than—humans in a ravaged, changing, apocalyptic, dystopian Earth. Serkis uses his voice, face and expert physical body movement to elevate his character, Caesar, above the norm. Caesar is portrayed by Serkis as a heroic leader of the apes—and, possibly, the leader of the future of Earth in general—but also a very real, very layered and very, yes, human, or human-like, being who, just like any leader, is constantly faced with a dizzying array of high-level decisions that could be right, could be wrong, could be successful, or could be disastrous—and, of course, Caesar’s decisions are often about a continuing—and unwanted by the apes—war between the apes and the humans. And, as everyone knows, war-related decisions are always difficult, always stressful, always prone to possible mistakes or even flat-out disasters, and naturally decisions that literally life-and-death decisions.
Serkis’ Caesar is smart enough to know all of this, and Serkis’ portrayal is smart enough to keep Caesar grounded, smart, caring and knowledgable at all times regarding the weight and impact of his decisions, while also keeping Caesar a real, likable and down-to-earth being—not some inflated, fantasy-like, unrelatable supercharged macho war hero type, and while also showing through pure acting ability Caesar’s continuing, painful internal conflicts about just what to do to successfully lead his tribe of apes to freedom and peace and a safe homeland, while also continually these increasingly horrid, crazy—and self-destructive—humans who seem not to want peace, but are hungering for war, dominance, territory—and, terrifying, the capture, imprisonment, slavery and even eradication of most of the apes.
Thus, Caesar in “War…” finds himself leading his apes during a most difficult time in the storyline of this “Apes” trilogy. All is not well in the futuristic Earth of “War,” things are mostly quite solemn, dark and dystopian, yet despite this overall mood and atmosphere, Caesar knows he must remain defiant, strong, confident—and optimistic, despite the most dire occurrences, circumstances and situations. And the filmmakers—Reeves, Bomback and the actors—know that they cannot present too dark of a film, lest filmgoers will turn away from too much darkness. Thus, Reeves and Bomback are smart enough to include a very strong level of positivity, optimism—and strength, vitality, courage, bravery and heroism–from the apes so they can indeed fight another day through the darkness and lead their people possibly to the light, to a new homeland, and a new world of peace and tranquility.
“War…” finds the apes and humans in, yes, a war, with a rebel, renegade group of half-crazed human soldiers, known as Alpha-Omega, seeking to find, capture and enslave apes, who are living in the woods in a beautiful, apparently tranquil and welcoming environment, to use the apes to build a huge barricade at the soldiers’ run-down, ramshackle fortress. The humans are actually scared and worried about attacks from—other humans. Thus, “War…” presents a third angle of conflict—humans against humans, which further drives home the point that in these “Apes” films, it’s the humans who are the problem—war-driven, conflict-driven, even flat-out crazed, psycho, insane. And it’s the apes who are the more rational, intelligent, common-sense-based and overall sane inhabitants of this upsidedown, crazy world.
Caesar is willing to try and talk with the humans, to negotiate a peaceful coexistence—until Alpha-Omega goes completely over the far side and invades the apes’ homeland, with devastating, tragic consequences. Caesar, who is a chimpanzee, subsequently sets off alone on a purely revenge mission against Alpha-Omega, but, his close friends and co-leaders of the apes insist that they accompany him, demonstrating the apes’ closeness, devotion to each other—and their strength in supporting each other and supporting their leader. Thus, Caesar sets off for Alpha-Omega’s headquarters accompanied by his best friend, co-leader, confident, number-two and all-around adviser, Maurice, an orangutan who is smartly, beautifully and wonderfully portrayed by the also-talented Karin Konoval; Luca, a gorilla who is part-soldier, part-warrior and who is also a senior adviser and bodyguard for Caesar; and Rocket, a chimpanzee who is not related to Caesar but has a relationship similar to a close relative of Caesar’s. The symbolism of this group working together is obvious, but it’s intended to be obvious—a clear symbol of togetherness and understanding and sympathy toward beings of all types is clearly displayed in how the varying segments of the ape community—chimpanzee, orangutan, gorilla and another chimpanzee—work together, help each other—and love each other. In the “Apes” films, it is, again, the apes who are more human than the humans, and this point is driven home constantly, to a successful result.
While Caesar, Maurice, Luca and Rocket head toward Alpha-Omega’s headquarters, they meet up with two other characters who do wonders to further lift up, somewhat lighten up, and literally humanize the evolving story, quest and battle: Nova, a beautiful, sweet, good-natured and gentle young human girl who tragically has been struck with an evolving strain of the virus that is decimating the world and who instantly bonds with the apes, cares about them—and is smart enough to understand their plight and how man has ruined their lives; and an eccentric, funny, strangely-smart but also somewhat nutty chimpanzee nicknamed Bad Ape—not because he’s bad, but that’s what his human captors previously called him—who exists as some type of experimental hybrid who can talk well but is still a chimpanzee. Nova offers comfort, serenity and a level of caring to the apes’ quest, and Bad Ape offers logistical insight that proves valuable and helpful during their damaged quest.
As Caesar and his troupe continue on their quest, the rest of the ape community heads towards safety and a new home in the desert, where they hope to finally settle in peace. But situations go horribly awry on Caesar and his troupe’s journey, and thus, much to the regret of everyone in the ape community, Caesar is captured, enslaved with other captured apes, and it falls on Bad Ape, Maurice, Luca, Nova and the other members of the ape community to release Caesar and the other apes safely, defeat the dangerous, crazed Alpha-Omegas, and quickly escape to their new homeland in the desert.
But first they must deal with yet another quite-obvious—and, again, it’s intended to be obvious—symbol of insane, war-crazed mankind—Alpha-Omega’s completely Looney-Tunes-bat-quano-psycho commander, a crazy soldier known only as The Colonel who has obviously been in the military far too long—and should, really, have never been in the military in the first place. Woody Harrelson brings all of his “Natural Born Killers” craziness and insanity—and danger—to the role of The Colonel, intentionally bringing to mind Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now,” George C. Scott’s crazed military leaders from “Dr. Strangelove” and “Patton,” and every other crazed, psycho, shell-shocked and military-crazed military leader from a hundred other movies. Bomback and Reeves intend for the symbolism to be obvious because of several little hints dropped here and there—Harrelson’s appearance as a bald guy (echoing Brando’s Kurtz); his tone, inflection and mannerisms, which also channel Brando’s Kurtz; and even an hilarious bit of scrawled graffiti that the apes run across: “Ape-pocalypse,” which is a brief moment of humor, but which also serves as a potent symbol of the craziness and horror of war, and the craziness and horror of what the world has become in the “Apes” films.
Serkis’ Caesar and Harrelson’s The Colonel are great together—discussing the insanity of war, their respective actions, why The Colonel is doing what he is doing, why Caesar and the apes are doing what they are doing, and even man’s inhumanity against man and ape, the overall ridiculousness, stupidity, ignorance and flat-out insanity of what The Colonel and humans are doing in the world and to the world, yet also discussing these important issues while Caesar knows that The Colonel is crazy and must be stopped, and while The Colonel thinks that, possibly, he—and mankind in general—could simply be on the way out on Earth. Their inherent conflicts and differences present fascinating psychological battlefronts, obstacles and discussions—even though, again, The Colonel is clearly nuts and increasingly separated from reality, even the crazed reality that exists in the “Apes” world.
Thus, it is up the ape community to free Caesar and the other enslaved apes, defeat The Colonel and escape once and for all to their promised homeland in the desert. Obvious religious symbolism, in connection to the apes’ quest for peace and safety in a new promised land in the desert? Yes, again, intended obvious filmic religious symbolism from Bomback and Reeves—but, it should be noted, NOT overly religious, NOT preaching, and certainly NOT sermonizing to the masses. The religious references are actually more filmic-inspired, not so much religious-inspired. It’s not necessarily religious-only to want you and your people to simply settle down, find peace and live in peace and tranquility.
Thus, “Apes’” story evolves to an overall intelligent rumination on numerous themes, lessons, messages, morals—including the stupidity of war; racism (inherent in many humans’ horrible attitudes towards apes in the movie is simple, stupid, ignorant racism); ignorance in general; the inability of some people to accept others—man or ape—who are different from them—that may sound like racism, but sometimes it’s just simply people being ignorant and stupid on this level; the dangers of man playing god and fooling around with foolish, dumb medical experiments—which is what started the virus that wiped out many men and gave rise to the more intelligent apes in the world (hence the “Rise” in the title of the first film in the series); and mankind’s continued stupid, blind destruction of the world—in “War…” and in real life—in terms of moronically ravaging the environment, forests, oceans, lakes, streams, deserts and every other type of ecosystem on the planet to the continued, horrid detriment of not just man and apes, but every other living, breathing creature in the world.
The beautiful, smart “War for the Planet of the Apes” is indeed a wonder in terms of not only being a strong summer science fiction film, but for being so intelligent in terms of its approach to numerous important themes and in its approach in presenting a smart, insightful script; powerful, fluid wonderful direction from Reeves; outstanding acting performances from an outstanding cast; production design that, much like “The Walking Dead” and numerous other apocalyptic, dystopian sci-fi films (including “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” the last film in the original five-movie “Apes” series from 1973), utilizes not stark, futuristic buildings and cold spaces, but rather utilizes the natural beauty of the outdoors and the country, driving home the point that man is always just a step or two away from going back to caveman days altogether due to mankind’s stupidity; and also exceptional editing, cinematography and a memorable, beautiful, stirring musical score from Michael Giacchino that is simply one of the best musical scores, from any film, in 2017.
So go see “War for the Planet of the Apes” and join in marveling the rarity of a successful trilogy reboot from 2011 to 2017, inspired from a previously-successful, original five-film “Apes” movie series from 1968 to 1973, and join in enjoying another in a stream of quality science fiction and fantasy films that have been released so far in 2017. And also take the time to take in the numerous, smart, important, insightful messages and morals that “War…” presents, for your consideration, and submitted for your approval, as Rod Serling, the co-writer on that first, original film “Planet of the Apes” movie way back in 1968, might have wisely said. And, for the record, Serling and Pierre Boulle, the French author who wrote the original novel “Planet of the Apes” from 1963 that started all of this, would definitely have enjoyed “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and now “War for the Planet of the Apes.” And if the very-talented, groundbreaking and equally socially-conscious Pierre Boulle and Rod Serling would enjoy these latest films, then that is nothing short of the highest compliment that could be paid for these entertaining films.