It’s not actually a war film, of course, although it does start with a battle reminiscent of a Vietnam military manoeuvre and finish with another that effectively forms a self-genocide. In between, what we have is really the Journey to the Planet of the Apes that completes what has now become abundantly apparent as a prequel trilogy. Indeed, if the modern sequence of Apes films should end here, all anyone need do is go back and watch the Charlton Heston original. But having more than trebled its budget in box office takings, this ain’t going to end here.
War for the Planet of the Apes manages a deft balance between allusion, esotericism, and obviousness that in part explains the runaway success of the series. This is thoughtful Science Fiction that also achieves mass appeal simply by the clarity and accessibility of its ideas. That we don’t bat an eyelid while spending the entire film seeing the battle for control of our own planet through the eyes of the species that would wrest it away from us, is genius. Not just of the animators who’ve taken the performances of Andy Serkis and Steve Zahn and turned them into entirely computer-generated characters we never once question the authenticity of, but also in scripting those characters as wholly and believably sympathetic. We really do care about Caesar and his kind.
His nemesis is not entirely unfathomable either. Woody Harrelson plays Marlon Brando as Colonel Herod with a determination that’s not inappropriate to his situation. He’s not quite Kurtz, but the film-makers throw in an “Ape-pocalypse Now!” reference anyway, for anyone who missed the hint. Rather, this appropriately unnamed Colonel’s Massacre of the Innocents is a doomed attempt to protect a kingdom we already know is lost, and it’s the unwittingly but eminently suitably named Nova (a superb performance by newcomer Amiah Miller) who provides his undoing. The script bleeds intelligence out of its every sinew, even if the director has gone out of his way to make sure even the most Friday night of audiences don’t miss anything.
So essentially this boils down to Caesar leading his people into the Promised Land, and we all know what happens to him then. It’s a beautifully realised end to a saga that’s managed variety, intelligence and entertainment in equal measures. At its heart, it’s been a story about fathers and sons.
Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes director) and Matt Reeves’ trilogy has styled itself around titles that suggest the coming of the Planet of the Apes, and fortunately they’ve been more than successful enough to allow for that eventuality. This might be the end of the prologue, but it’s almost certainly not the end of the road. Roll on the next one.
Special Features: All About Caesar / Director’s commentary / Concept art gallery
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: MATT REEVES / SCREENPLAY: MARK BOMBACK, MATT REEVES / STARRING: ANDY SERKIS, WOODY HARRELSON, STEVE ZAHN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW