War for the Planet of the Apes is a straight up fantastic movie. It’s a bold and daring film for any movie, let alone as a conclusion to a trilogy. Battles are present in the film but only to culminate as bookends for the story. It undercuts expectations with the character conflict scaled down to a Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now inspired tale, where Caesar’s is forced to confront his own humanity – for lack of a better word. The titular War is not as bombastic as I personally expected, only for the film to reveal the thematic conflict involving the soul of the planet.
At the end of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, mankind vanishes into the shadows of the past. The older visage of our kind has resorted to their most tribal state, all before irreparably damaging the next generation, the curse of the man-made virus that destroyed our society bringing remnants of man-kind down to their most primal state.
The fascist Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson in an obvious homage to Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, grinds the gears of war. Militant and bigoted towards anyone he sees as lesser than his vision of humanity. The victor of the war was chosen long before War even starts.
The Colonel is vastly different from Koba. Humanity isn’t given the limelight like in previous films, at least the older ones who have been completely and senselessly consumed by the drums of war. The Colonel’s army, the Alpha-Omega, have abandoned humanity. They don’t test the apes. They’re the last grasp of a ferocious generation, un-accepting of what comes next.
Opening moments involve the Alpha-Omega assaulting the ape community Caesar established over the trilogy. After suffering from heavy losses, Caesar falls into the same path Koba was set upon.
Koba is his own version of a virus, haunting Caesar’s psyche and testing the ape equivalent of Moses. Even in death, Caesar constantly questions himself and his purpose. Is he going to succumb to the same monstrous tendencies that ruined humanity and one of his closest allies?
While I still prefer Koba as a villain, and Dawn overall as a film, The Colonel and War do exactly what they set out to do in the closing chapter of the Caesar trilogy. But there’s a technical proficiency on display with War that is unmatched. Grand vistas and variety of locations make this one of the best looking movies of the year, but its the use of further groundbreaking motion-capture that will hopefully give this movie staying-power during awards seasons. We spend the majority of our time with tangible apes via computer-generation, often without human characters onscreen. Even if the film wasn’t already confronting the very ideas of humanity, they’re elevating already quality performances.
But the film is pushing powerful ideas. Ideas nihilistic for humanity and optimistic for the apes. Our time has come to an end. Maybe whatever comes next will get it right.
Apes. Together. Strong.