“War for the Planet of the Apes”


            For those unfamiliar with the back story, the apes have acquired advance intelligence through human error:  a mutation experiment gone awry.  Then the human population was ravaged by a mysterious “simian virus” from being in contact with the hyped-up apes, until the two groups are now approximately equal, and struggling for control of what remains of the post-apocalyptic planet.

            Most of the apes communicate by their own sign language, but some, like their leader, Caesar (Andy Serkis) can speak English fluently, and does---not just to communicate with the humans, but with the apes, as well (to demonstrate his superior intellect?).  It's not unusual to see apes riding horseback, brandishing spears, and sometimes just indulging in primal roaring, but neither is it unusual to see the humans using arrows as well as more advanced weaponry.  It's a hodge-podge world out there, and Director/Writer Matt Reeves takes full advantage of the incongruity of the human girl who can't speak but also can't identify with the warmongering humans, as well as the irony of the humans developing a new virus that renders them speechless, and further descending in the primate pecking order.

            The battle scenes are intriguing, but really, this boils down to a confrontation between the Caesar bent on revenge for the slaying of his family, and the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), the leader of the human group that is striving against the apes.

            Ah, but it's more complicated than that.  It seems the wacko Colonel has made enemies among the humans, which makes Caesar realize that if he's cagey enough to help his tribe survive, maybe the humans will wipe each other out and do his dirty work for him.

            At the end, Caesar is really more of a Moses figure:  he leads his enslaved people out of their bondage and into their Promised Land, and like Moses, figures that once he's got them there, it's somebody else's turn to lead.  Like Moses, Caesar has enemy blood on his hands, and like Moses, Caesar benefits from a miraculous bit of natural catastrophe to help deter his enemies.

            It's amazing how quickly you can start thinking the apes are the good guys—that is, family-oriented, civilized, and empathetic, while the humans are the bad guys---that is, violent, self-centered, power hungry, and self-destructive.

            Yes, it stands in a long line of separate episodes, but after a little introduction, it also stands on its own.  And yes, it's a parable in ape's clothing.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Which animal do you think is the most like humans?

2)                  Which animal is the most likely to turn against humans?

3)                  When have you battled within yourself between your better side and your more despicalbe tendencies?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association