Caesar’s last stand?
Is this the end? As the third episode in the re-boot, War For The Planet Of The Apes certainly has the feel of a finale, but star Andy Serkis has been quoted as saying that there could be more. And just a few weeks ago, we reported on director Matt Reeves’ declaration that “there will be another one.”
For the time being, there is the definite sense of at least a chapter closing, with an older, more grizzled Caesar (Andy Serkis) defending his clan from the humans and facing a new enemy, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), who is on his trail, determined to track him down. But when an attack brings the most personal of tragedies, he finds himself fighting an internal battle against his instincts to react like Koba, who continually comes back to haunt him. The instinct for revenge is too strong, whatever the cost.
While the more heavyweight themes of family and fatherhood play an integral part throughout, this is also something of a film fan’s dream, the opportunity to play that favourite game: Spot The Movie Reference. War For The Planet Of The Apes is littered with them, some more effectively than others. Woody Harrelson’s Colonel has walked in straight out of Apocalypse Now looking like Robert Duvall’s son, complete with a taste for music of the period – Hendrix’s Hey Joe is his backing track of choice. By itself, the reference works, so the swooping helicopters and the omni-present graffiti are heavy handed additions that we really don’t need.
The religious references are there as well, with Caesar suffering for his community and the Colonel talking about sacrificing his only son in an earlier war. And there’s the inevitable nods towards Spartacus – the ape slave rebellion, the way they unite behind their leader (no shouts of “I’m Caesar!”, thankfully) and something approaching a crucifixion. The list goes on ….
But, all that aside, this is an ape western, with them taking on the role of what used to be called the Indians. They’re in tune with their surroundings, they fight valiantly, even though the odds are stacked against them, while the humans massacre them, using the survivors for their own ends and treating them brutally. A western, then, in the tradition of Dances With Wolves (yes, another reference), and sometimes a revenge western too. For noble savage, read noble ape.
This is still Caesar’s story. We’ve watched him develop from just uttering a few words in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011) to conversing hesitantly in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014). Now speaking is second nature for him, although he’s the only ape who does. All the others use sign language, sub-titled for our benefit – except for one new arrival. Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) isn’t as his name suggests. A refugee from captivity where he was treated badly – witness his lack of body hair from stress – the words “bad ape” were constantly shouted in his ear. Although speaking gives him something in common with Caesar, it also makes him a complete outsider among the rest of the apes, a wizened figure of pathos. Caesar himself has come a long way since the first of the trilogy, growing as a leader to reach iconic status and much of that is down to Andy Serkis’s astounding acting ability.
At the same time, the film’s CGI has raised the bar yet again. Dawn created apes that had that essential spark of life in their eyes. War goes further, showing us thousands of them, but all facially and vocally different, reacting individually to what’s happening around them. And it’s a fantastic achievement.
Like its predecessors, War For The Planet Of The Apes is a bold and sweeping adventure but, unlike the other two, there’s a reflective tone which mirrors Caesar’s maturity and personal struggles. If this is the end, it’s an epic conclusion to an epic saga. If it’s not, we can only wonder what comes next.
War For The Planet Of The Apes is released on Tuesday, 11 July.