Now that the dust can being to settle, it is surely time to anoint the ‘…Apes’ trilogy (2011-2017) as one of the very best of recent times. After all, when you consider that we live in an age where cinema goers are pummelled into submission with rambling, elongated and ham-fisted franchises that seem to only ever pause on a perpetual celluloid ellipsis, there is a welcome air of finality to the closing passages of WFTPOTA.
After a thoughtful opening instalment with Rise of the Planet of the Apes by British director Rupert Wyatt, erstwhile Cloverfield director Matt Reeves picked up the mantle ever since with an impressive panache. The New Yorker’s innate understanding of the grave allegorical undertones of the tale have been delicately matched by a strong, measured blockbuster punch. And in War…, he builds upon the sturdy foundations that he himself laid down in its antecedent, Dawn for the Planet of the Apes.
Truth be told, despite a frantic, wood-laden, bullet-blasting bloodbath to open proceedings, this takes a little while to get going. Human soldiers creep up upon the hideout that they believe to host Caesar, the Apes’ commander-in-chief. As lives are lost on both sides of the conflict, the delicate peace that appears to only exist when there is ignorance as to the apes’ whereabouts is torn apart. After Caesar suffers personal woe, he elects to track down the man responsible. Cue a makeshift band of old faces – and the discovery of a new one (also the source of the very few laughs to be found in War…) – and you have a Lord of the Rings/Bilbo Baggin’s-style quest.
From these quiet peripatetic passages comes a compelling second half. Featuring a wonderful Colonel Kurtz-style performance from Woody Harrelson (indeed, Apocalypse Now is lampooned punningly on one of the tunnel walls), the metaphors may be clear (refugee crisis, work camps, concentrations camps, gulags etc), but it is no less powerful for that. Like all the best science fiction narratives, this tells us plenty about humankind and how we treat one another; how fear and ignorance can spark unspeakable cruelty.
If Roland Emmerich understood film and people, he might be capable of the feats that Reeves so brazenly displays. The War for the Planet of the Apes is great and wraps up a trilogy that now looks like a towering achievement. Brains and brawn. It’s a simple cocktail, but so many get it wrong. Not here.
The War for the Planet of the Apes is released into cinemas on 11th July 2017.