by Charles Kirkland, Jr.
A real twist on the monkeys vs. humans story occurs in the third installment of the Planet of the Apes reboot.
Caesar and the apes are in hiding as relations with the humans have reached the highest level of distrust due to the actions of Koba in the last movie. But Koba’s actions are not only a stumbling block to humans but Caesar’s action toward Koba (killing him) haunts Casear as well. The hiding apes are attacked by a military unit led by a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson) and suffer a large number of deaths.
Caesar and his apes eventually repel the attack and capture four of the soldiers. He sends the soldiers home with the message that the apes have no desire to confront the humans and just want to live in peace. The military unit ignores the peace offering and the colonel himself leads a second attack where he kills Caesar’s wife and son. Caesar is overcome with anger and grief and launches out a revenge mission after sending the apes to a new location for safety. While Caesar is bent on going to kill the colonel alone, a number of his compatriots including Maurice, the orangutan are intent upon going with him to help. Caesar knows that this military unit is different because of their use of some captured apes that they call “donkeys.” Along the way as they are tracking the military unit, Caesar realizes that there is still more to his opponent than meets the eye.
Woody Harrelson is very intense as he plays the Colonel, a man with a philosophy regarding the apes and the Simian Flu that sets him at odds with the rest of the military. But Andy Serkis gives a command performance as he carries Caesar through a variety of emotions from pensive and thoughtful to angry and vengeful using the motion capture process in a way unlike any other.
Maybe it’s something about apes riding horses but director Matt Reeves bends the genre of the apes series by taking War for the Planet of the Apes and turning it into a modern-day, angst driven, western on par with the likes of Unforgiven or even The Magnificent Seven. Harrelson’s Colonel is every bit convinced that he is a good man doing bad things for the right reasons as Gene Hackman was as the sheriff in Unforgiven. Revenge motivates our hero, Caesar into action that he vehemently opposes like Eastwood.
Reeves returns to the series after having helmed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Reeves continues to pump social commentary into the War much like he did in Dawn. The use of the word “donkeys” is as biting, evil and full of vitriol as the “N” word. Natural selection vs. creation, faith vs. evidence, humanity vs. brutality are all thrown into the background of the film to provide depth of story with an ending of biblical proportions reminiscent of The Ten Commandments with Caesar as Moses.
War of the Planet of Apes is more than appropriately rated PG-13 for violence and action, thematic events and disturbing images. It is a superbly created and well executed film that communicates with the audience on various levels.