Ape – ocalypse Now:
War for the Planet of the Apes
What a film. Played dead straight, this reboot has been showing us how to do it right since 2011; and now, following Rise and Dawn, Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes concludes a great, epic trilogy that has given us a fully satisfying beginning, middle and end.
And just to get the bitching out of the way…there is none! Except to say that unless Mr. Cameron comes up with a completely new technique for Avatar 2, then this is definitely the last time I inflict the murk-o-vision of the awful 3D gimmick on myself. It is no way at all to enjoy a film. Nor would I have done it this time except that for the first three days of the film’s release this is the way the distributors want it shown. Which means, I hope, that what is left of the cinema-going public is copping itself on and ignoring this pointless process.
It’s now some 15 years since the outbreak of the virus that made apes smarter whilst making humans dead. A fair trade, I would have thought, considering the way that we’ve messed around with this planet.
Following the rebellion of Koba, Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) tribe has been living in the deep woods, trying to avoid contact with humans. Now, however, a mad renegade of the American Army is determined to wipe out the species once and for all.
The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) has imprisoned them in his demented compound and is determined to have them build a barrier against his former comrades, before exterminating both them and the apes. As he struts around with his shaved head Harrelson irresistibly reminds the viewer of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, the resemblance to that movie being made explicit in the scrawled graffiti that I ripped off for the heading of this piece.
His dialogue is sometimes almost verbatim, with its ‘moments of clarity’ and ‘terminate my commands’. With the crucified apes that litter his killing grounds and the general air of quasi-religious insanity, you have to wonder just how many novels and films have been influenced by Joseph Conrad’s short masterpiece, Heart of Darkness. Yet Reeves and screenwriter Mark Bomback don’t allow the conceit to overwhelm the film.
It is extraordinary how much Caesar has grown as a character. In fact, all of the apes are just so damned individual that it is impossible to remember that these are actors using cutting edge special effects. In particular, one can almost feel the weight of fatherhood and leadership that Caesar carries on his shoulders: and he may be slighter than some of his tribe but he is battle-hardened now and his every movement speaks of a truly dangerous creature. From the very first moment that the eyes of he and the Colonel meet, we can almost see two cups of hatred overflowing and know that for these two warriors it can only end in one way.
This is a grim film, but there are moments of great beauty: the mountainous orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) coming to realise that a human child, Nova, is mute. His eyes are penetrating and wise as he offers her a well-used doll. And there is an exquisite moment when the gorilla Luka (Michael Adamthwaite) plucks a sprig from a peach blossom tree and gently places it in the girl’s hair. Amiah Miller, who plays the child that is the link between ape and human, is quite simply outstanding.
And the naming of the girl as Nova is a lovely and subtle tip of the hat to the mute beauty who was Charlton Heston’s mate in the original 1968 Planet of the Apes.
This is one film that would simply not be the same without the gorgeous soundtrack by Michael Giacchino. For one evocative motif Reeves occasionally even turns down the other sounds, which is incredibly effective.
How odd that one of the most humane and often beautiful films of the year involves a species other than our own.
Or perhaps that’s not so odd.