By Thomas Olsen
How in the world is this movie so good!? A movie about talking apes should probably not be as good as it, but director Matt Reeves creates a film that is emotional gripping and a true cinematic masterpiece. From a technical perspective it’s nearly flawless. The cinematography is stunning and captures the mood and atmosphere so well. I watched this in the middle of summer and the winter setting made me want to grab a blanket. Just like in Dawn the GCI blends perfectly with the practical effects and I usually forget that I’m watching a movie about CGI apes. This also might be Michael Giacchino best work to date. He brings in themes from the last film and then builds on them with beautiful and haunting new melodies. The thing that really brings this film together is Andy Serkis’s mesmerizing performance as the tortured Caesar. He goes above and beyond to create one of the most sympathetic fictional characters of all time.
This movie does so much more though than just give us a story about a war between apes and humans. It’s also a compelling drama, a buddy road trip film, a great escape film, and a cautionary tale of the destructive nature of revenge and other self-destructive behaviors. There are so many interesting elements that come together in a very satisfying way. This film is also is downright brutal to watch at times. The mental, emotional, and physical toll that Caesar goes through is at times excruciating to watch. He takes a beating from all sides. One of the interesting things though is that while some of these things are brought upon him others are the result of his own actions.
I’ve heard a lot people express that the title War for the Planet of Apes is not a very accurate title, mostly because there’s not a lot action or actual battles going on. I can understand why people think that and I partially agree, but I also think the film is trying to tell a story about an emotional and internal war rather than a physical war. From the start of the film Caesar embarks of an internal journey of war with himself. Throughout the film he is constantly battling his own difficult and painful emotions. He grapples with giving up hope, revenge, shame of his past mistakes (such as killing Koba and not protecting his family), his new hatred for humans, and the responsibly of being a good leader. It’s a compelling journey that allows you as the viewer to really feel all the emotions and struggles that Caesar struggles with. It’s a battle for Caesar’s soul and to me that’s much more relatable.
Caesar isn’t the only one whose soul is at stake. One of my favorite parts of this movie is the apes who out of fear side with the humans. It’s a fascinating example of how fear causes us to do things that end up hurting us more. They essentially betray their own and put themselves in a place of captivity and bondage, rather than fighting for their freedom. It’s quite relatable honestly. I think there’s been many times when I’ve allowed fear to dictate parts of my life and in so doing I’ve made choices that actually hurt me more. Once again though these apes also have a narrative that is sympathetic and enduring, especially the character Red. There’s a moment between Caesar and Red that is especially poignant.
Red: I save myself
Caesar: Is there anything left of you to save?
I think this question ultimately helps Red to see the error in his ways but I also think Caesar is grappling with this question for himself. I mentioned before that I see this film as a cautionary tale of the destructive nature of revenge both on ourselves but also how it affects the people around us. This is demonstrated in two different ways. The first is that this whole movie is essentially the aftermath of Koba’s mission for revenge. His own vendetta against the humans is part of what started this war and now Caesar and his people are the ones caught up in it. The other is from Caesar himself. His quest for revenge is what puts his people in bondage. It also causes him to lose good friends along the way. There’s a moment when Caesar has an opportunity to put away his revenge. Rather than take that opportunity he tells himself, “I am like Koba.” And goes to seek his revenge. It’s a very good example of not being able to escape his hatred, which ultimately boils down to him not being able to escape his pain.
Revenge is a self-destructive behavior that not only usually causes more pain and ruin in our lives but also the lives of others. I think this film demonstrated that whether it’s revenge or some other self-destructive action or thought it’s important that we learn address the pain rather than let the pain control us. That to me is the ultimate message of this film. Like many of the other films I’ve watched recently this is another deeply personal message that I really need to see and hear. I’ve done some very self-destructive things in my own life recently and seeing a relatable character like Caesar experience these same struggles is both encouraging and motivating to me.
Going back to the question of, “Is there anything left of you to save?” I think that this film is trying to get us as viewers to also answer that question for ourselves. Just like the characters in the movie the answer for me, is yes! There is always something left to be saved.
While the human characters are not quite as likable as they are in the previous two films, they are still characters that we can relate and empathize with. They fear total extinguish and because of that they are desperate and desperation causes them to do some pretty dark things in order to try and survive. It’s doesn’t excuse the awful things they do but I appreciate that we are given insight into why they are doing what they are doing. I think the feeling of desperation is relatable once again. Desperation is something that I believe is part of the human experience and we all will face at some point. It might not cause us to do the terrible things that Woody Harrelson’s the Colonel does, but I know for me it has caused me to act outside my values and do things I normally would not do. Things that I am not proud of. This movie helped remind me to be more aware of what my desperation is trying to tell me.
I love that this film really demonstrates the idea that we are all very flawed people just trying to figure out how to get through life. Because we are flawed we many times do things to hurt and scar each other. There’s a scene though that I believe sums up the answer to all these problems that the film brings up. In this scene Caesar is imprisoned and has gone without food and water. The little human girl Nova (who Caesar has not treated very well throughout the film) risks her life to get Caesar food and water. That small act of kindness then sparks a renewed sense of hope in all the apes to untie themselves to press forward and find a way to escape. It’s beautiful moment that demonstrates the power of kindness and how significant it can be.
I could keep going but I’ll wrap it up here. I clearly love this film and think it’s one of the most effective blockbuster in the last decade that is both entertaining but also incredibly deep and thought provoking (This makes me even more excited for Matt Reeve’s take on Batman). There was so much I was able to pull from it beyond just being entertained for 2 hours. The last