War for the Planet of the Apes is a cinematic masterpiece. The film is powerful in every way from the score to the visual effects to the most important aspect of all, the plot. Directed by Matt Reeves, War for the Planet of the Apes details (what seems like) the final chapter of an amazing franchise. Caesar (Andy Serkis) is pushed to his limits and is forced to make some very tough decisions. The film parallels reality so much to the point I found myself frustrated throughout most of the film. It was a two hour and twenty-minute rollercoaster of emotions, mainly seeing my frustration turn to anger. It’s because of that, the laughter, the sadness, the anger, the frustration, that I have to give the film such high marks.
If you don’t feel anything during or after a film, does it deserve praise? Art is supposed to be moving, so if you aren’t moved, there’s a problem. I’ve enjoyed the entire franchise from ‘Rise’ to ‘Dawn’ and now ‘War’.
I found the timing of this quite interesting. As press, we were allotted an early screening in the month of June. On June 16, Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in Minnesota. Yanez is the officer who shot and killed Philando Castille in front of his daughter and fiancée whilst strapped (by seatbelt) to the seat of his car. As a minority, seeing this so often can almost make you numb, but with the rise of technology, as a people, we became hopeful. But like all things pertaining to black people, fairness rarely beams its head our direction and a Facebook Live Stream coupled with dashcam video was insufficient to the cause. Four days later, it’s June 20 and I’m on my way to see a film I’ve been anticipating for three years.
I say all that to say that I was still in a state of disbelief when I went to see this film. But it played perfectly into the consciousness that was put into this film. I’m going to break down all the things I noticed that you may or may not pick up. Also, what does that last paragraph have to do with this film? The main theme: fear.
You see it all the time with politicians, fear mongering works. We have TV shows like Fear Factor and horror movies that people actually pay to see because they want to be scared. America has an obsession with fear, but when it comes to reality, there’s a sizeable group of people who often suffer because of the fear of others. Take this animated clip from Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” as the best visual display you could possibly get.
The main quote that stands out in this satirically accurate history lesson was “The slaves were free! Yup, they were free now to go chop all the old slave masters’ heads off! But the freed slaves took no revenge, they just wanted to live in peace… But you couldn’t convince the white people of this!” And the precise reason why then and now, you can’t convince white people of this? Fear.
Caesar stated countless times that he wanted peace. It’s frustrating because, like the video above, people just want peace and to be left alone and instead they’re getting slaughtered. So when you get into this film, you’re introduced to a very tense situation. This military force so aptly called “Alpha & Omega” (beginning and end) is scouring the woods because of a rumored stronghold supporting Caesar. As always, the humans have advanced weapons, armor, various attack plans and formations, and most important, overconfidence. So just when they think they have Caesar’s people on the ropes, the apes use tact. They use the natural advantages of mother nature and launch a successful counterattack to ward them off. Now here’s where things get interesting…
Now how did they know to find Caesar in the woods? Well, the humans have a few apes of their own working for them. The same way ‘Massa’ got tipped to finding runaway slaves: you find a few scared ones, offer them what they’ve never had (or safety from what they fear) and they’ll turn on their people in a second. In this instance, these apes are from the previous installment that supported the rogue ape Koba. Koba and Caesar (for those who haven’t seen the previous two films) had an MLK/Malcolm X, Professor Xavier/Magneto type of relationship. They both wanted the same thing but one preferred peace while the other approached freedom with aggression.
(We’re about to get spoily so proceed with caution)
To make matters worse, these apes that are helping the humans are degraded by being called “Donkeys” (The disrespect is even spraypainted on their backs). I had hope for this new albino gorilla on Caesar’s squad named Winter (Aleks Paunovic), but he wasn’t courageous like the rest of them. His sheer size would make you think he was ‘bout that life’, but he was more nervous than anyone in the woods. So naturally, he turns on his people and joins the humans. Why? Because ‘Massa’ said he would let him live after they captured Caesar. See how that works? So in the film, these ingrates are called donkeys, in reality, you might hear ‘turncoats’ or worse things for black people like ‘Uncle Tom.’ But to show you just how deep it hurts whatever group of people you’re a part of and how serious it is, Django can explain it best (pardon the language):
Here you can see Dr. Schultz wants him to appear like he’s betrayed his people by becoming a Black Slaver. But Django tries to explain to him that there is nothing on earth lower, for a black person in that era, than to be seen as a slaver. So replace ‘Black Slaver’ with ‘Donkey’ and we’re feeling some serious parallels in the first 15 minutes of this fictional adventure.
To further support Caesar’s strive for peace, the A&O faction flees the woods after a few of their commanders are captured. Now, this is where it gets dirty. The main person with the communication equipment is a man simply referred to as Preacher (Gabriel Chavarria) so Caesar focuses on him. He frees him and his comrades but sends him away with a message to deliver to Sergeant Scumbag Woody Harrelson… Oops, I mean “The Colonel” who is played by Woody Harrelson. So what’s the dirty part? Caesar frees this guy Preacher (who is an actual preacher) and when he could’ve helped Caesar later in the film, he opts to shoot him instead. So yeah, minorities are always expected to be ‘the bigger person’ when chaos comes their way and no matter what, get screwed in the end. The exact same thing happened to Caesar (I facepalmed hard when this happened).
But just like the animated video above, do you think Caesar freeing the same people that tried to kill him and sending them back with a message of peace would finally prove that the apes pose no threat? Of course not. So A&O respond by coming back the very same night and try to kill Caesar’s family in their sleep (it’s the American thing to do).
But the scary thing about this whole debacle is the straightforwardness of their ignorance. The Colonel tells Caesar straight to his face that they came after them “out of fear of being replaced.” See how that term ‘fear’ is the running constant in all of this?
I’m going to fast forward a bit towards the end of the film. (Spoiler Alert) The apes get captured and of course, treated like slaves. This is where I tip my hat to the writers and producers of this film because of intent… Trollicious intent. Where are these new slaves being housed? At an artillery depot on the border. What kind of forced labor is involved at this border? Why building a wall of course! (What else would you do at a border?) And the trolling doesn’t stop there. I almost fell out of my seat when The Colonel proclaimed, “We’re building a wall… A big, beautiful wall,” almost verbatim of a certain toupee wearing Cheetoh Puff.
One of the most powerful exchanges in the film happen between Caesar and one of the main donkeys that assist A&O. The gigantic gorilla looks Caesar in his eyes and says “I saved myself!” (by aligning with the humans) And Caesar responds with a simple “Is there anything else for you to save?” Powerful. You sold out your fellow apes, the leader you followed is dead (Koba), you have no friends, the humans treat you like trash, they demean you by calling you a weaker animal than what you are (donkey), and you help kill those that look like you. Needless to say, Caesar took a massive tug on the heart strings on that one.
The secondary reason for A&O snuffing out the apes is because the simian flu has mutated. The humans have seen some of their own go mute (yea I didn’t say die, I said lose their ability to speak) and it had The Colonel absolutely livid. While scoping the territory around the forest, Caesar and the gang stumble upon a house. A human was hiding there because he had become mute (we later discover because The Colonel was so scared of the mutation spreading, anyone that was mute was executed). Maurice (Karin Konoval) finds a little girl hiding in the back room under a bedsheet. Caesar is hesitant to help her but Maurice insists that in good conscience, he couldn’t leave her behind. They end up naming her Nova (Amiah Miller). The young Nova represents the exact same thing James Franco did in the first installment: Coexistence. There’s a scene where one of the bigger gorillas that supports Caesar has a soft moment and puts a flower in Nova’s hair. That same gorilla gets killed defending his friends not too long after the fact. But not only does Nova comfort him in his pain, she takes the same flower she was given and gives it back to him. Caesar and everyone around them couldn’t believe what they saw as the girl put one last smile on his face before he passed. So not only is this girl courageous, but she finds family among them to the point where even though she cannot speak, her furious sobbing at that gorilla’s death communicated what couldn’t be said otherwise.
Easily a 9.5 out of 10. It’s a great film, very powerful, very touching, and there are countless lessons throughout. The great detail gives the film some serious verisimilitude. This will easily be the movie of the summer and will go down as one of the greatest trilogies in the last decade.
Apes stronger together.