Thursday, 27 July 2017


20th Century Fox Films

What is it about ape films and Vietnam? Earlier this year we had Kong: Skull Island, where the titular giant gorilla combatively stomped his way through a south-east Asian jungle pursued by US military helicopters to a pop-rock soundtrack from the '60s and '70s. And now we have War for the Planet of the Apes, Matt Reeves' closing of the Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy, which borrows heavily from Vietnam war film iconography to depict man's last stand against those damn dirty apes.

In this analogy mankind is obviously the US, suffering an embarrassing loss at the paws of their underdog foes. Yet in this trilogy the apes have always been in the ascendancy, ever since a vaccine designed to help reverse the effects of Alzheimer's (and tested on primate subjects) escaped the lab; simultaneously increasing ape intellect whilst wiping out human kind.

Caesar was the first ape to benefit from the vaccine's IQ-boosting properties, and over the course of these three films (Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014) he has been the protag leading the primate charge, both in battle and for a home of their own.

Andy Serkis's portrayal of Caesar has been one of the great performances of the 21st century, and not just because of the state-of-the-art motion capture technology that allows him (and his fellow cast mates; Karin Konoval as the series' MVP, orangutan Maurice, and Steve Zahn who joins the trilogy in War, as the sad clown Bad Ape) to convincingly transform into an ape. Like he did with Gollum in the Lord of The Rings films, Serkis breathes life, but most importantly heart, into Caesar. He is a fully-rounded, emotionally complex creation.

The same, however, can't be said for the humans who have suffered from thin characterization throughout this series. And so it is again in War, where Woody Harrelson plays The Colonel, the leader of a surviving band of humans, who are armed to the teeth and intent on taking out the ape threat before they -- or, more correctly, a mutation of that original virus which is now rendering humans 'primitive' -- destroy them.

No doubt inspired by Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, Harrelson doesn't go completely 'troppo' but he fails to make The Colonel sympathetic; identifiable only in as much as most humans in this trilogy have proven unworthy of saving.

War For The Planet of the Apes may drag a little when Caesar and his tribe are held prisoner by The Colonel as he awaits an assault from a rival human faction, but there's still much to admire in Reeves' film which, if not the best of the trilogy, is equal to both its predecessors. Ending on a hopeful note, well, for the apes at least, War manages to successfully and satisfyingly close the trilogy.

Of course, the circle of life (and film history) dictates that several decades from this ending, the events of the very first Planet of the Apes film (1968) take place. The battle begins anew, proving much like Vietnam, man -- and ape -- have learnt nothing from war.

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