War for the Planet of the Apes

I’m usually not a fan of reboots, because most of the time they tarnish the good name of the original. Sometimes we don’t need to bring a film/franchise to a new generation. Sometimes the younger generation should just refer back to the original and learn to appreciate cinematic history. But before you knock me off my high horse as another millennial hater, I can admit that the Planet of the Apes reboot has been pretty solid. The original 1968 film contained a powerful over-arching metaphor in which apes were a proxy for Black and other oppressed people. This latest addition to the rebooted franchise hearkens back to the original with its symbolism and allusion to the darker undercurrents of society.

When we last saw Caesar (Andy Serkis, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), he defeated his nemesis Koba after a bitter act of betrayal. War for the Planet of the Apes, the third installment of the reboot, finds the apes under siege from the military, which is thoroughly outmatched by their simian adversary. I was reminded of some of the better battle scenes in recent memory, and the CGI was A-plus. Throughout the movie I truly cared more about the apes than the humans, all of who displayed abject cruelty and duplicity, save for one child. I appreciated that the plot was completely linear, a straightforward tale of pursuit, of hunter vs. hunted. The apes’ morality was a central theme, and there was a clear dichotomy between man and animal.

Caesar is merciful and just, resorting to violence only when provoked and in defense of his fellow primates. He represents a superior moral archetype, compassionately sparing the lives of captured human hostages, an act of mercy that would have devastating consequences for his family. While the apes traverse the Pacific Northwest in search of a new home, they are hotly pursued by a military faction helmed by a psychotic Woody Harrelson (Now You See Me 2) as The Colonel.

The movie was characterized by a somber, heavy tone, as the director eschewed any emphasis on the human element, instead focusing on the relationships and survival of Caesar and his brethren. While Caesar plots against The Colonel, his fellow apes “Bad Ape” (Steve Zahn, Captain Fantastic), Maurice, and Rocket travel to their new home. The powerful character narrative and emotional quotient of the movie made it well worth watching, and my only criticism is that it was surprisingly tragic and bleak. Nevertheless, War for the Planet of the Apes was a compelling movie that drew me in with an emotional storyline and a thought-provoking depiction of humankind’s inherent, persistent tendency towards savagery and oppression of those whom we marginalize as different. Grade: A


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