War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) is the final film in the trilogy of the reboot of the series, following Caesar who starts a revolution with the aid of the Simian flu. I think it is a very good film both on its own and as part of the franchise. Whilst I don’t believe it has the great story of Rise of the Plant of the Apes (2011) or the style of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), it has clever ideas and is an entertaining watch.
Consequences of the Simian flu
The opening shot is one of the most powerful in the film, the camera slowly moving through the jungle with the human army troops. It echoes the pre-Simian flu era of the world, when it was apes that were in the jungle. The humans acting as a pack walking through the jungle with caution is part of a recurring theme in not only this film but also the whole trilogy, which is the complete reversal of apes and man; as the humans become more primitive (even this word itself means “earlier stage of evolution” and therefore relates to apes), the apes gain intelligence and act as the superior species. This is the main motif of the franchise and can be seen in in examples such as the gain and loss of speech of apes and humans respectively, the imprisonment in cages (referring to zoos in the pre-Simian era), and most importantly the reversal of intelligence. By this final point I mean the general thinking and strategy of either side of the war: whilst the apes are carrying out clever escape plans and Caesar susses out the truth of the soldiers coming from the border, the Colonel and the soldiers think in simplistic military ways and have few profound conversations. It is possible to see the improvement of the intellect of the apes over the three film span, and the decline of the humans’.
Characters and Script
I found the film cleverly integrated the intelligence of the apes without making the plot too ridiculous by having a contrast of a profound conversation relating to ‘the darkness inside Koba and the simple language Caesar and Maurice use. Caesar uses basic sentences and almost speaks like a child, whilst Maurice uses no words at all by signing.
We see familiar characters in this film from the rest of the trilogy, as well as a few new ones. I think Bad Ape is a brilliant addition, with Steve Zahn’s performance often credited even more than Serkis’ Caesar. Bad Ape’s frantic behaviour and almost comedic speech contrasts the calm and calculated speech of the other apes, especially Caesar. However, I don’t think the orphaned girl is necessary. I see her as nothing more than a weak link to the original Planet of the Apes with the realisation of her name later on in the film. I liked how she was the start of the slow realisation that muteness was a symptom of the mutating Simian flu, but there was no need to include her in the rest of the film – her sadness at Luca’s death made the scene cheap since their connection was weak. And finally, the most important new character, the Colonel is perhaps the most interesting part about this film. To be honest I really didn’t like his character at the start – him appearing with sunglasses in a dark echoey room saying how ‘big a moment’ it was when he and Caesar met. But as the film went on we think of him less as a cartoony ape-killing villain (who is seemingly close to Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kurtz). I really like the conflict in the character and the ideas he raises. A villain with whom the viewer can identify and see their reasoning is, I believe, the most interesting type of villain. And to change my mind about his character in such a short amount of time is rather powerful too.
The cinematography was not exceptional, but that wasn’t supposed to be a big appeal of the film, and I think some non-conventional shots and camera angles and colour schemes would have got in the way of the powerful story and characters. At one point, Caesar’s search party stops and suddenly we see the pink of a cherry blossom tree interrupt the almost black and white scenery of snow and trees. I liked the symbolism of this colour as a sign of hope within the apes. This, and the tense shots of Caesar running around the compound with explosions around him, was enough of a cinematic statement in my eyes.
Planet of the Apes and Music
What I find so clever about this film, and the rest of the trilogy, is not only the story a reboot of the some of the original series of films (Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)), but also a prequel to the very first, Planet of the Apes (1968). The most obvious evidence for this is the ending, but can also be seen throughout the film – the humans becoming mute (just like they are in Planet of the Apes), and the cage the apes are contained in reminds me of the cage the apes contain the humans in Planet of the Apes). The music composition in War is also very clever as it plays with and includes some of the memorable drums in the soundtrack to the original, but still different enough to have its own theme. I think whilst the music in War isn’t the most catchy or beautiful film music in the world, it suits the film well whilst encompassing the motifs from Planet of the Apes.
I think this film is a very powerful end to the amazing story following a pandemic which seems not too unrealistic, giving rise to quite literally a planet of apes. This film carries on and ends the brilliant character arc of Caesar who we watch grow from a baby to move away and find his home is with the other apes he has rallied and then battle amongst his home in Dawn when Koba leads an uprising. This forces Caesar to make important decisions and this growing of a character follows on into War. Strong acting performances mixed with stunning visual effects (for which the film gained an Oscar nomination) and a solid script makes War for the Planet of the Apes an entertaining watch for anyone, and a brilliant film for the fans of the Planet of the Apes franchise.