Reflections on “War for the Planet of the Apes”
Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves
Starring Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson
Criticism of human character and nature is maintained and even sharpened right from the opening scenes of “War for the Planet of the Apes”. Humans initiate and escalate aggression and violence in a furtive attack on an Ape encampment, the purpose of which, it transpires, is to divert the apes’ attention while their Colonel infiltrates Caesar’s home and kills Caesar’s wife and son. This happens shortly after Caesar has released some human soldier prisoners as a gesture of good will and has offered peace on condition the apes are left in peace in the Redwoods.
The Colonel’s unprincipled act virtually amounts to treachery in the face of Caesar’s act of mercy and his reasonable stance in offering terms. This is compounded by the fact he appears to neither know nor care about who he has just murdered, but simply assumes he has killed Caesar.
On top of this, turncoat apes are used by human military forces as informers and trackers but are treated with condescension and contempt while Caesar spares the lives of captured soldiers, showing mercy and respect for life – all life.
There are few shades of grey or signs of inner conflict such as we witnessed in “Dawn”. Lines and characters are clearly drawn from the outset of the film and a final conflict seems inevitable from the beginning. The principal antagonist is not even named – he is known simply by his rank, symbolising authority, position and attitude.
Having lost his family in such an underhand and brutal attack, Caesar finds, despite his previous (but untried) insistence on forgiveness and “letting go” of the past, especially in his dealings with Koba, he cannot contain his hatred and his desire for revenge. He, accompanied by a select few supporters, sets off on a mission to seek out and destroy his enemy, the Colonel, as his fellow apes decamp and seek another home.
Along the way there are numerous references to the original Apes film (including horse rides along the coastline, crucifixion scarecrows, the gift of a human doll and the name “Nova” given to the little mute girl they pick up on their travels), as well as an explanation for the spreading mutism and simple-mindedness among humans, an element essential to the original film.
Many themes are touched upon or revisited in the course of the film, using apes to represent any race or minority group under threat from those willing to ignore or neglect others in an attempt to establish their authority and ensure their own survival. These themes include animal rights, mankind’s fundamental untrustworthiness and willingness to sacrifice others (belonging to other races, but also his own) to ensure his own survival, racism and slavery, and the need for compassion and forgiveness in the face of hatred and the desire for revenge.
However, the outstanding theme is that of anti-fascism.
The Colonel’s installation is set out rather like a Nazi concentration camp and incorporates forced labour, crowded internment facilities or cages and sustenance inhumanely withheld until completion of the task set. Columns of soldiers cry out praise for their Hitler-like leader who arrogantly presents himself for their acclaim on a balcony high above them. The Colonel is even aiming for the purification of his race by getting rid of the weak and infirm, and is willing to use other races to this end before eliminating them as well.
The message regarding dictatorship and how easily mankind turns to a leader who offers solutions in times of crisis (regarded by some as extreme), is clear.
Caesar, in contrast, acts in the best interests of all his race and is even willing to put his life on the line to defend his people and insist upon their rights to fair treatment. It should be noted his fellow apes are willing to endure harsh treatment in order to save his life. Their mutual respect and admiration is in direct contrast to the dictatorship endured by the humans.
Subtlety may have been lost, however, when Caesar refers to the Colonel’s pointless building of a “wall” (as opposed to “defences”) to protect against the influx of enemy soldiers.
Once again, there is sterling work in terms of writing, direction and performance. This is the darkest of the three films but this is perhaps inevitable and logical given the development of the overarching storyline and the increasingly pessimistic tone, though this was lightened by occasional humour, especially from the vaguely Dobby-like Bad Ape.
I have to say I was totally engaged and didn’t notice time go by, and there are few higher recommendations for a film.
This would appear to be the final volume of a trilogy, but I would suggest there is ample scope for a further trilogy. These three films have set the scene and laid the historical groundwork for a further series of adventures which would see the return, thousands of years later, of the astronauts who set off into space during “Rise”. They would return to a planet inhabited by intelligent and talking apes alongside silent and weak-minded humans.
The astronauts might eventually make their way along the coastline and encounter archaeological digs in a forbidden zone which covers the site of the Colonel’s military installation, handily buried, along with the vast majority of the nation’s fighting forces, in a deluge of snow and nature …..
They may even discover that Caesar’s exploits and principles have been enshrined in sacred scrolls handed down through the generations, scrolls which form the basis, and establish the fundamental values, of Ape culture.
I look forward to seeing such a second trilogy …..
My thanks for taking the time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.
stuartfernie.org (with links to my page on the original “Planet of the Apes” and a page about “Rise” and “Dawn”)