War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) | Ape-ocalypse Now! Adventure and spectacle never looked so awesome
Imagine if Cecil B De Mille and Irwin Allen created a Planet of Apes sequel and decided to fuse elements from The Ten Commandments, The Great Escape and Bridge on the River Kwai, while also paying homage to the original Ape movies… boom! You’ve got War for the Planet of the Apes aka Ape-ocalypse Now! – where spectacle and adventure collide on a colossal scale – but with a complex morality fable racing through.
Did I like it? Hell yes! Picking up two after the events of Dawn, Caesar and the surviving ape colony have been hiding out deep in the forest when they come under attack from a band of soldiers, who are quickly subdued. In an act of mercy, Caesar spares the lives of the survivors, but their leader, Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), launches a devastating counter-attack.
With knowledge that forces from the North are heading their way, Caesar plans to send the colony out of the forest to a safe haven in the desert – but there’s a little matter of revenge against the ape-hating McCullough to sort out first…
[WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD]
What follows is Caesar undergoing an existential crisis as he struggles between becoming like his nemesis Koba whom he defeated in Dawn (but who still haunts Caesar) by getting violent revenge on the humans, and also dealing with the challenge of leading his tribe (just like Moses) to a Promised Land.
Of course he can’t do it without some help: so we have the ever-reliable Rocket (the brawn) and Maurice (the brains and Caesar’s conscience) accompanying him, along with Steve Zahn’s former zoo inmate, Bad Ape (who supplies the film’s only comic relief) and an orphaned girl (Amiah Miller) who Maurice takes under his protection – giving her the name Nova (could she be Chuck Heston’s rescued damsel from Planet of the Apes?).
The fact that little Nova can’t speak is another link to POTA where all of the humans were mute. Seems that pesky virus from Rise has had far-reaching effects. It could also provide a clue as to where this reboot franchise could be heading if War does just as well at the box office as the first two.
Caesar is soon into Heart of Darkness territory when Harrelson’s shaven-headed Kurtz-like Colonel captures the apes – including Caesar’s young son Cornelius – and forces them to work as slaves. Now, its time for Caesar to put on Dickie Attenborough’s officier’s hat and devise a Great Escape with the help of his sidekicks…
Like I said before, I loved War and those movie riffs, especially to the original Ape movies of which I’m a huge lifelong fan were a treat. The one that really tickled me was when Caesar is seen in silhouette as fires burn around him, which recalls the closing shot in Conquest of the Planet of Apes when Roddy McDowall’s Caesar delivers his ‘birth of the Planet of the Apes’ speech after defeating his captors. And those scary crucifixes seen in the first two movies also feature.
But while some may think it lazy film-making creating a movie based on the best scenes from classic big screen adventures, what makes this adventure so enthralling is the epic cinematography and the genuinely touching performances of all the motion-capture ape characters – with Andy Serkis providing some richly deep commanding vocal talent to his slightly greying and grizzled Caesar and Karin Konoval returning as my favourite – the marvellous Maurice. Then there’s the solid screenplay which brings brings lots of light and shadow and complexity to what could be seen as another ‘Apes good, Man bad’ scenario.
This is what summer blockbusters should be all about – adventure and spectacle on an awesome scale – but with a bit of heart and soul and moral complexity.