War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

  • Time: 142 min
  • Genre: Action | Adventure | Drama
  • Director: Matt Reeves
  • Cast: Judy Greer, Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn


Caesar and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel. After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.


  • Beneath the superb special effects and the genuinely moving simian pathos lies a parable for our time. As from the franchise’s outset, this human vs. ape confrontation portrays the tragic folly of our continuing impulse to demonize and to subjugate another race/nation/people.
    The Kurtzian arch-villain Colonel (Woody Harrelson) is a white supremacist who claims control of nature: “All of human history has lead to this moment. The irony is we created you. And nature has been punishing us ever since. This is our last stand. And if we lose… it will be a Planet of Apes.”
    The film is prequel to the first Planet of the Apes, pitched shortly after our time, so that a beanie reads Bedtime for Bonzo (a classic Reagan ‘50s comedy).
    The Colonel acknowledges the apes’ superior strength. “No matter what you say, eventually you’d replace us,” he tells his captive Caesar. “That’s the law of nature. So what would you have done?” Racist belligerence is painted as self-defence. Sound familiar?
    Caesar’s apes represent a more responsible civilization: “We are not savages. Apes fight only to survive.” He sends human prisoners back with the message: “Leave us the woods and the killing can stop.”
    But the bellicose humans can’t stop themselves from fear, hatred and killing. The Colonel’s particular fear now is that mankind may be wiped out by a rampaging virus that has been attacking humans, stopping their speech, killing them. The mute girl Maurice adopts proves humanity survives that virus.
    (Full disclosure: Ya gotta love a film where the leader’s wise advisor is an orangutan named Maurice.)
    But the Colonel’s campaign to preserve humanity is itself destroying it. The Colonel speaks for our current extremists around the globe when he maintains: “There are times when it is necessary to abandon our humanity to save humanity.” As its happens, that’s how the current American presidency paints its sweeping sacrifice of democracy.
    The Colonel considers himself fighting “a Holy War” — on two fronts. Against the apes he is defending his own culture, however self-destructive and compromised. But he is also facing an attack from a large army of humans from the north, his own military superiors, who are coming to remove the madman from their service. The Colonel needs the apes’ slave labour to rebuild the military outpost where he will defend himself against his own. He will exhaust them, then annihilate them
    As in the modern Middle East, however, and contrary to tradition, the enemy of your enemy could still be your enemy. The northern army itself also wants to destroy the apes. After the apes have defeated the Colonel, they are immediately bombarded by the other army, all garbed in white. Why in white?
    Because here nature at last intervenes. Nature reminds us its stronger than man. The Colonel claims the white man is the master of nature, that any other species is beneath him on The Great Chain of Being, that his arrogance and slaughter are on the side of the natural. But the white-uniformed army is wiped out by a snowy avalanche. The white nature overwhelms the presumptuous humans, white and uniformly clad in white.
    Though the political allegory here is global it has particular reference to Israel’s continuing struggle for survival. Like the Jews, Caesar’s apes ask only for a secure homeland. They don’t want to continue war and killing. Some seek the false security of assimilation — like the apes who serve the Colonel, who are abused, called Donkey, but sustain their vain hope of acceptance. Caesar’s name evokes the Roman period when the Jews were driven out of Judea and robbed of their roots and identity.
    The avalanche that saves the apes recalls the Red Sea’s drowning of the pharaoh’s forces, finally freeing the Israelites from Egyptian enslavement. Like Moses, too, Caesar gets to see the Promised Land — a desert much like the desert Israel transformed into fertility and modern science — but he doesn’t get to enter.
    Caesar’s personal growth is also pertinent to Israel. Through most of the film he is determined to act on his own to avenge the murder of his wife and older son. He imperils and loses some of his people by this vendetta. But he finally subdues this demon. He saves his people — yeah, I know, they’re apes, but still — by subordinating his personal campaign to theirs. In his climactic gesture he doesn’t kill the humbled Colonel who tortured him and cost him so dearly. Instead he allows him the respectful suicide. Caesar’s hands stay clean.
    As Israel has faced relentless attack since 1948 (and its people there from even before statehood), that lesson is important. Vengeance is a terrible temptation. Forgiveness is hard, so it’s necessary if peace is ever to supplant war.
    Of course, before the Israelis can lay down their arms, forgo vengeance, stop fighting back, the Palestinians might be well advised to stop killing them and to accept peaceful coexistence and prosperity with the Jewish state.
    And so around the world, where people at war demonize each other, deny the other’s humanity and strive to annihilate them. That’s not natural.

  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆½ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: B+


    JIM’S REVIEW: The Planet of the Apes series has spanned 50 years with a very spotty record of hits and misses. The third chapter in this  rebooted trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes, (totaling 8 remakes, including this 2017 film) is a wonderful offering of strong storytelling, fine acting, astute direction by Matt Reeves, and dazzling state-of-the-arts visuals.

    The story beleaguers its tale about the battle between man and apes.  After all, this is a war movie, regardless of the species, but wisely focuses on the primates and their interplay and conflicts. The film fleshes out their individual traits and humanizes their plight.

    Andy Serkis once again plays Caesar, the leader of the retreating apes, and supplies voice and action to his character to maximum effect. Woody Harrelson is his blood-thirsty de-humanized adversary, known as The Colonel, a direct descendent of Col. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. He is seen as pure evil and little time is spent on his character development, one of the film’s minor flaws. Also bringing strong support is Steve Zahn as Bad Ape, Karin Konoval as Caesar’s loyal friend, and Amiah Miller as the mute Nova.

    More time is spent on the action packed combat sequences. There is strong evidence of inspiration from other war films such as The Bridge Over the River Kwai, The Great Escape, and that aforementioned Coppola classic. However, the screenplay by Mark Bomback and the director mixes the “human” drama with its war scenes most effectively. (Kudos to Mr. Reeves for his strong direction as well which balances the dramatic narrative with epic staging usually found in blockbuster spectacles.)

    But its the film’s Oscar-nominated visual look that champions this sci-fi adventure film. (It should have won.) Without the transfixing motion-capture design and CGI effects created by all the artisans behind the lenses, the film would not have worked so incredibly well. It is an impressive realistic blending of animation and acting that makes the story resonant. The production values are top-notch, especially taut editing by William Hoy and Stan Salfas and a diverse music score by Michael Giacchino that does not bombard the viewer with loud unnecessary fanfare.

    The series is bookended with its very best efforts and War for the Planet of the Apes, this franchises’ possibly last installment, ranks among its finest achievements.   

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