For Freedom. For Family. For The Planet.
A good fifteen years ago, the concept of a sequel surpassing its predecessor was something of a rarity. Then films like Toy Story 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier started to emerge and it became evident that sequels don’t have to be cheap add-ons, they can be deep continuations of a particular journey. But what the Planet Of The Apes prequels have managed to do is particularly unique in that they have started off with a surprising foundation and built on it to produce one of the finest, most emotionally rewarding film trilogies that genuinely represents all oppressed peoples.
Following the events of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, the human forces have become increasingly desperate giving rise to a militant force called Alpha Omega, led by the mysterious but determined Colonel McCullough [Harrelson]. The colonel orders an all-out offensive to eradicate the ape forces, with the assistance of desperate and fearful apes who are dubbed “donkey” to distinguish them from the opposing force. Despite the fact most humans believe the enigmatic ape leader Caesar [Serkis] is dead, he reveals himself very much alive and wants only to end the war. This message is ignored and an attack on Caesar’s home leads him to resolve that they need to migrate across a vast desert to safety. But not before Caesar tracks down the Colonel and reaps revenge. Accompanied by a small unit of loyal followers, Caesar encounters a mute girl, Nova [Miller], who is entering the next stage of the disease’s effect prompting the orang-utan Maurice [Konoval] to take her under his wing, arguing that she will die alone.
Anyone can start a story but few know how to end it – and while I fully expect another (maybe lesser) Apes film to rear its head eventually and will openly acknowledge that the 1968 original is technically the next film in the sequence, this single character arc is one of the most satisfying and rounded serial conclusions I’ve watched; taking simple, contained, narrative-driven stories and making us perversely invest in the obliteration of our own species. Curiously, the root of this success is Matt Reeves himself, who is living proof of the things you can accomplish when you put passionate people in charge of IP projects. From the subtle parallels with the original film such as the whipping, scarecrow crucifixes and Michael Giacchino’s tribal score to the continuation of themes and internal conflicts from the first two films, this bridge evokes a real sense of familial belonging and transition.
The further we delve into these prequels the more we step away from humanity as a force for good; as fear and hatred take over, no longer are the noble individuals the majority. No more is that evident than in this instalment which portrays the majority of the survivors as hot headed, destructive and steadfast in the confidence of their actions, rather than just a rogue handful. Which, of course, is the logical conclusion for these prequels; in order to have some sort of pleasing conclusion, the audience need to feel somewhat uplifted and we can’t be doing that if our on-screen manifestation is destroyed.. unless, through a process of transference, we sympathise or heavily identify with the qualities of the apes and come to the drawn conclusion that mankind deserves to be wiped out. But in order to do that, we require a mean son-of-a-bitch for a bad guy but one who still retains some semblance of integrity so we respect him as an adversary. Harrelson’s Colonel McCullough does that in the best way, mirroring performances like Pharaoh and Colonel Kurtz; this is a man who believes so clearly in his righteousness, that he is willing to sacrifice everything to protect that concept. The irony of all this is that the detainment centre that the Colonel oversees is brought to life with animalistic roars and acts of barbarism from the soldiers. The only real hope for humanity comes in the form of a simple, caring girl named Nova who is struck by the next stage of this disease but retains her better nature despite the inability to speak, highlighting the softer side and potential for good that exists within us. On the other side, we have the apes. Caesar has evolved from his humble origins and is now a revolutionary of mythic proportions to both sides of the conflict and yet, at his centre, he simply wants to be left alone to thrive. On a deeper level, Caesar is haunted by the actions of his friend-turned-rival Koba illustrating an internal conflict that all great leaders struggle with – the burden of office and the fallout of the decisions made for the greater good. Maurice continues to be a mainstay powerhouse of reason and emotion, as does Rocket, elevating the characters from their simple beginnings as “the orang-utan one and the one that used to run the enclosure that beat up Caesar” from the first film. Watching this release, there’s a distinct link between something like The Ten Commandments, pitting two forces against one another and how the destruction of one is not the direct fault of the other. Equally, it imbues legendary and mythical status on its lead, transforming Caesar into a character which would be revered as an almost godlike being to those whom he liberated. What I’m trying to get at here is that none of this would be possible if it weren’t for the incredibly clever script and superb combination of live-action performances and digital artwork, which allow you to forget that none of this is real.
The film is, however, not perfect but the flaws are so minuscule that they can be quite easily dismissed. For example, the human characters aren’t as developed as the ape characters, bar a few select individuals and there is a questionable amount of peripheral sign language reading. But in light of what has been accomplished, these are arguably petty observations.
All I can do to summarise is rinse and repeat what I’ve already said earlier in this review in throughout the bulk of my Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes review: this is a truly impressive achievement with visually stunning imagery and absolutely gut-wrenching performances at its core. The direction, editing, writing and cinematography are working in harmony and produce a tale which cuts through you in a way that a) only science fiction can and b) no one would expect a Planet Of The Apes prequel could.
14th July 2017
The Scene To Look Out For:
I have two scenes to highlight today, for very different reasons. The first is the frustrations shared between Bad Ape, Maurice, Rocket and Nova who communicate with a mixture of broken sign language, English and gestures. On the one hand you have Nova who understands but has trouble conveying anything, Maurice and Rocket who communicate with sign language and Bad Ape who can only speak English. It’s a wonderful illustration and example of how “people” with a common goal can overcome an inability to express themselves without confusion and produce a common dialogue. The second thing to highlight is the character arc of Red the donkey and Preacher. Preacher is spared by Caesar in an attempt to show the humans that they are not savages. While Preacher experiences some sort of struggle, he still chooses to turn his weapon on Caesar by the end of the film. Whereas Red, the gorilla who has conspired with the humans and acted as Caesar’s direct torturer, chooses to intervene and save Caesar’s life at the expense of his own. Showing a human character as irredeemable but an ape that can reform and atone is a bold move but one that this release does masterfully.
Steve Zahn’s appearance as Bad Ape offers a lot of levity that has been missing from these films. Endearing, innocent and funny, he brings a sense of amusement that Dawn in particular did not have and with all the darkness and finality of the narrative, this light touch is exactly what was needed, without ever veering too much into farce or stupidity.
“Even in his primitive gaze, I felt love… I pulled the trigger. It purified me”
In A Few Words:
“An astounding achievement and one which ensures the legacy of this Planet Of The Apes prequel trilogy may surpass even the original feature”
Total Score: 5/5