War for the Planet of the Apes directed by Matt Reeves, 20th Century Fox, 2017
Reviewed by Abbas Daya
War for the Planet of the Apes opens with a traumatised Caesar (Andy Serkis) still trying to come to terms with the fallout from Dawn of the Planet of the apes, specifically the betrayal of the apes by a fellow ape, Koba, who Caesar was forced to kill at the end of Dawn (which ironically is a betrayal itself of the apes’ prime decree – “apes not kill apes”). Aside from Koba’s stab in the back, the apes now have to contend with the ruthless Alpha-Omega paramilitaries led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a brutal and psychotic military leader bent on exterminating the apes, who answered the call for help Malcolm broadcasted at the end of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
The Colonel however, is not without his own demons. There are non-ape forces at work against him so instead of slaughtering the apes he captures them for use as slave labour and works them to death. It’s left to Caesar and his small band of plucky heroes, including a mute child, Nova (Amiah Miller), to save the apes’ bacon.
Darkness is a strong theme running through War. Since the spread of the virus that nearly wiped out humankind, seen at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the world has become a dark place as people struggle for survival and fend for themselves in a post-apocalyptic world with adversity bringing out the worst and best in humankind. The Colonel is a metaphor for the dark heart of humanity and Harrelson does a wonderful job of bringing out the worst characteristics of ruthless military leader/humankind – paranoia, ignorance and violence.
War for the Planet of the Apes does a fair job of exploring other equally dark themes like betrayal, revenge and war crimes but not crassly thanks to a fine performance by Serkis and his ape gang of Karin Konoval (Maurice), Steve Zahn (Bad Ape), Terry notary (Luca) and Michael Adamthwaite (Rocket) who do a stellar job of injecting moments of action, humour and poignancy into a dour film.
The third instalment in the Planet of the Apes reboot franchise is still an action packed offering with stunning scenes and a stirring score but it is also a sober, moving, film. Fans will also want to know what the future holds for both apes and humans. Let’s hope the story continues and we find out!