The War of The Planet of The Apes

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

The sequels seem to never stop, but this one is different. It has inspired interest from Christian Tesfaye, Fortune's in-house film critic, instead of apathy. 8 out of 10 stars.  

At the heart of every movie is mankind’s relationship with nature – his environment and everything it entails. More so than that, mankind loses. Every time we think we had gotten the best of nature, our excesses come back to bite us in the behind.

This was what Planet of the Apes tried to tell us. I am not referring to the Mark Wahlberg – Tim Burton debacle. I go way back, to the late 1960s, a drug crazed period that dared to show us that apes will come back up the evolutionary chain, and outperform humans.

The 1968 Charlton Heston starring sci-fi is one of the best examples of brilliant mystery. Heston’s character and other space crews crash-land on a planet that is inhabited by primitive humans and intelligent apes. The big reveal takes place at the end, where the protagonist encounters a broken piece of the Statue of Liberty. Heston’s character screams, “They blew it up!”

He meant that humanity somehow dropped the ball, that arrogance in believing we can concur nature has done us all in.

There were several sequels and a reboot since then, but they all proved impotent in the face of the original. That is until 2011 when 20th Century Fox decided to give the franchise a reset. The storyline in which an astronaut finds civilised apes was dropped because they could not deny that the original had done it as perfectly as it could possibly be done. Instead, the studio green lighted a scenario in which the events that led to humanity’s suicide would be explored.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released to enthusiastic reviews. It told of an ape called Caesar (Andy Serkis in performance capture animation) who becomes smart as a result of a medical experiment. He grows to see that the world is swamped by human beings, and their disregard for everything else. He uses the same drug on other apes that was used to make him intelligent. The drug, while it made apes smart, was toxic to humans, almost annihilating mankind.

The sequel was called Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar became the leader of the apes but his authority was weakened by one of his own, Koba, who preached hateful ideology towards humans. His actions trigger a war between the species, although Caesar opposes Koba, and even ends up killing him.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the last film in the trilogy. Clashes still continue between humans and apes, and Caesar is in hiding. A faction of frustrated military men have found a new leader, called simply The Colonel. The Colonel is to humans what Caesar is to apes – he gives them hope, but hope through hatred. When Caesar’s wife and kids are killed by The Colonel, Caesar vows revenge and goes after him.

It says something about the strength of War’s narrative and atmosphere that both mainstream and art house audiences can enjoy the movie. Most of the dialogue consists of apes communicating in sign language or screeching. Humans do get to talk but it is never interesting, it is always someone screaming or making threats. The only human that is in good graces with the apes is mute.

Caesar, on the other hand, is one of the few apes that gets to speak. Serkis’s voice closely resembles that of Willem Dafoe’s. It is thick and majestic, and always expressive. What is even more impressive is Caesar’s facial feature. I have never seen Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) achieve such detail of faces, so expressive of human emotions. On the one hand, I appreciated the effort, that we could read anything we wanted to from Ceasar’s face. But I also wonder what the future of acting would be. In a few years, CGI would shame the best of Brando.

Sound is an asset perfectly utilised in the movie. Gun shots and explosions are deafening but in a good way. And the visuals match the acoustic extravaganza. Owing to state-of-the-art special effects, director Matt Reeves does not shy away from close-ups, framing real humans and CGI apes in successive shots to create an eerie contrast.

War is a movie that is watched while asking oneself, “shouldn’t I be rooting for the humans?”

The film is disapproving of our current state of affairs. In a particularly significant scene, men are shown applauding the complete annihilation of what must be the other half of humanity.

In the original Planet of the Apes, audiences rooted for Heston, the high cheek-boned, small jawed, big headed human hero. This time around, incredibly enough, we are backing Caesar, the very leader of the species that is threatening humanity’s prominence on the planet. All it takes for man to desert his like is a good movie.

By Christian Tesfaye

Published on Jul 28,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 900]



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