Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Let My Sequels Go! The Official Black Owl Review of "War for the Planet of the Apes."

Spoiler free for two paragraphs!
I will not rehash here my love of this franchise, all the way back to Pierre Boulle's book that was originally translated as "Monkey Planet," but more artfully as "Planet of the Apes."  You can read my review of the first of these modern films here and get my whole simian love affair leading into "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."  

Somehow, I never reviewed "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," and I regret the oversight.  Let me assure you I found it as engaging and intelligent as "Rise" and again just as sad in its own way.  It leaves the idea that war is on its way at the end, and I was both eager to see where a third film would go, and anxious that like so many modern films we would stumble in the third act.  I am delighted to say that my worry was unwarranted.  There is plenty of action in "War" but at its heart it is a movie asking questions like what defines humanity?  Is vengeance our principle trait? Do we deserve to maintain status as the dominant species if we continue being so utterly horrible to each other? This is a smart movie, an exciting movie, and a heartbreaking movie.  In a world of reboots done simply to cash in on nostalgia, these Apes movies manage to take the basic conceit and use it as a vivid tableau to examine whether it's just intelligence that defines humanity, or something greater.

Spoilers commence.

A lot of movies, particularly hero movies, play off a lot of religious themes and imagery.  Be it Ripley in "Alien 3" throwing out her arms in a cross as she sacrifices herself to kill the hatching queen, or Superman in "Superman Returns" throwing out his arms in a cross as he sacrifices himself to save the world from Lex's growing continent or Superman in "Batman V. Superman" throwing out his arms under the burden of saving the exploding rocket...well you get the idea (especially with Superman) and lot of Christ imagery out there.  I came to realize with this film however that the "Apes" trilogy went old school with their heroic/savior template.  Caesar is not Christ, but rather Moses.  I found that pretty refreshing.

Think about it, he starts as an infant hidden away, is taken in and raised by the ruling species, and ends up returning to his people.  In this film we specifically get him preventing the beating of an ape slave by an overseer, him seeing the delivery of a plague that strikes at the children of humanity, a hurried escape from a pursuing Army that is then swept away (snow is just very cold water after all), and finally he leads his people to a promised land that he can look into, but as a result of his sins, he cannot himself enter.  His destiny we are assured from our Ape movie knowledge is to be known as a Lawgiver- Ape shall not kill Ape.  Andy Serkis's performance has been universally, and rightfully praised as one that shines through the mocap, and his Moses by way of chimpanzee I can only hope is in some way obliquely inspired in the mind of the writer by Charlton Heston's "The Ten Commandments." (After all, Heston got to do HIS Christ imagery when he threw his arms out to save the survivors in "The Omega Man.")

Every Moses however needs a Pharaoh.  In this film we get Woody Harrelson as "The Colonel" (his uniform says McCullough, but I don't think they ever say his name).  A plague has taken his first born, he is relentless in pursuit of the enemy, and that uncompromising nature proves to be his undoing.

I saw a rather astute observation, that the crux of this film is how Caesar and The Colonel deal with the need for vengeance.  Caesar to the point he has broken his law of killing ape, and his pursuit of vengeance has endangered his entire tribe.  The Colonel- though perhaps in ways correct from a purely Darwinistic standpoint-has prioritized killing the Apes and any carriers of the now mutating Simian flu to the point of going to war against the rest of humankind.  Both Serkis and Harrelson are electric in these roles, and their interaction is gold.

I was also pleased that The Colonel with his argument for survival of the species really does have a point, though the film does not simply say he is the bad guy because he's Army; More of the US Army is on the way to stop his reign of terror against Ape and Man.  It's a wonderfully complex setting and character, making you consider just who is right, and if we are just destined to continually fight enemies or one another.

I do want to address a criticism I have seen of this movie, regarding the idea that no female character--human or ape--has a spoken line in this film.  I do think that the writers could certainly have done better in that regard, but there are female ape characters who communicate through sign language, and I feel that should not be dismissed.  I also want to point out the delightful young Nova.  She is made mute by the mutated Simian virus and learns to sign from the orangutan Maurice.  She is pivotal to not only the actual plot (she saves Caesar's life and facilitates the Ape Escape), but also in exploring the theme of what it is to be human.  She discusses whether or not she can be ape, and provides the human anchor in this film that gives the argument that though there are awful humans, there are good people as well.   The initial criticism has some validity, but I do not want that criticism to overshadow the enormous impact, story-wise and emotionally, this girl fighting through a disability brings to the film.

And speaking of that mutation, this movie has done a very interesting thing with Ape-lore.  The Apes have entered the desert near the lake; humanity is being reduced to a mute, almost savage state; young Cornelius and young Nova are in place. If you remember the Easter Egg in the first movie that a space probe with astronauts had been launched and lost; how tidy it would be to now have a fourth film placing the events of the classic just a couple of decades after this movie, and now instead of Nova being the poor, mute savage following Taylor around, she is the advocate for the Apes to him...and for him to the Apes.  That could be a compelling film and continue where this excellent, heartrending, intelligent trilogy leaves us.  

Maybe Nova in the next one can save human and ape alike with arms wide open?

PS- Oh, and Bad Ape.  I just want to hug Bad Ape.

1 comment:

William A Schwartz said...

Well stated my friend.