War for the Planet of the Apes; 140 min; Rated PG-13
Although you may spend time in darkened theaters enjoying the full spectrum of storytelling displayed on what has been referred to as the silver screen, it is possible that you are not tempted to devote two hours watching any film with “Ape” in the title and may care not a wit about the “Planet Of ... " franchise. Understood.
I admit, however, that I will never forget seeing for the first time “Planet of the Apes,” released in 1968, with its, well, jaw-dropping premise and unexpected ending. The reversal makes for compelling entertainment.
In total, there have been nine in the series, the last three prequels. I would argue that these last three are the best of the nine, with “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the final installment in the trilogy, exceptional.
Of course, “War” benefits from what have been quantum leaps in moviemaking technology, more specifically motion capture/CGI and special effects. But not in the way that has any connection to the perpetual summer standard releases by Big Tent DC/Marvel. This is something entirely different.
What the writers and the techie guys have done is something truly remarkable. They have allowed the filmmakers/writers to create a film that is, in essence, a character study, not of a man but of a simian. Caesar (Andy Serkis), leader of the apes, is a more-than-credible creation who carries the exposition (and there is more expository moments in "War" than one would expect). He is insightful, flawed and introspective. There are countless tight shots of Caesar’s visage, of his eyes, of his expressions that convey a powerful sense of … I want to say his humanity. His eyes convey love of family, an abiding grief, an inner torment as he struggles with his impulses of revenge and hatred.
In “War,” Caesar is confronted with an unhinged antagonist, Colonel McCollough (Woody Harrelson), who is intent on ape genocide, believing he is fighting for his species and for dominance of the planet.
The struggle between the two is biblical, and, like its predecessors, an allegory inspired by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” with the Colonel not dissimilar from Conrad’s Kurtz. He is a man emotionally warped, his soul desiccated (for reasons briefly explained), his embrace of evil total as he searches for a “final solution.”
Having said all of the above, I would judge the trilogy to be crafted for an older crowd. A kids’ movie it’s not. It is dark with allusions to racism, slavery and internment camps.
Also, while “War” is a sci-fi film, it fails to mine the gear that is generally associated with the “suspend your disbelief” blockbuster genre.
Of course, this doesn’t obviate for many moviegoers the fact that the trilogy, and certainly “War for the Planet of the Apes,” requires a willingness to enter into the narrative. It asks the audience to identify with the apes and not the humans (whose madness seems to know no bounds). It’s a strange contradiction, but it works, testimony to the skill of the writers and the filmmakers.