:Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)


War for the Planet of the Apes
Release Date:  July 14, 2017 (USA)
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Starring:  Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, and Steve Zahn 
Music:  Michael Giacchino
Director:  Matt Reeves
Rated PG-13

Review by William Nesbitt
Professor of English
Beacon College, http://www.beaconcollege.edu

War for the Planet of the Apes is a war movie (in case you can’t tell from the title).  The irony is Caesar, the leader of the apes, doesn’t want to go to war.  When the apes are attacked by an army of humans, they defend themselves, but Caesar insists on releasing the human that they capture as a show of goodwill and as a demonstration of their peaceful intentions.  However, the humans press forward and attack Caesar and the apes again in the middle of the night.  Thus, one of the movie’s messages about war is that it is unavoidable with those who seek it against you.   

The movie alludes to both various peoples involved in historical conflicts and wartime situations.  The apes who live in the forest and mountains surviving with pre-industrial technology and weaponry parallel the experience of Native Americans who resisted the encroachment of the United States and its military and then either migrated or were relocated to distant lands.

An even stronger connection arrives in the form of the Vietnam conflict.  For example, the camouflaged soldiers creep through the unfamiliar forests in search of the apes they collectively refer to as kong.  Kong has several references.  There is, of course, the reference to King Kong—the Ultimate Ape.  Another reference is to the Viet Cong, a political and military unit, active during the Vietnam War.

The film contains other allusions.  The human soldiers have various messages written on their helmet such as “Bedtime for Bonzo.” There is a film of the same name from 1951 in which Ronald Reagan—yes, the former president—tries instilling human values in a chimpanzee.  In one disturbing scene, Caesar must suffocate a fellow ape to avoid alerting the inhabitants of an enemy camp they have infiltrated.  There is a similar scene in the final episode of M*A*S*H in which Hawkeye orders a woman to kill a noisy chicken.  When the noise stops, he realizes that she has smothered her baby.

The antagonist of War for the Planet of the Apes is the Colonel, who commands the human army that hunts the simians, rounds them up, and then imprisons them in a camp, which operates as a concentration or detainment camp and as a work/labor camp.  Believing that he is fighting a “holy war,” The Colonel’s final intention is to turn it into an extermination camp.  The activation of these camps and his complete hatred of the apes, makes is very easy to find connections to World War II, Hitler, and the Holocaust.  The Colonel has the apes rebuilding a destroyed wall in his fortress.  This recalls historical walls such as the Berlin Wall and the peace lines or peace walls that still separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Northern Ireland.  This mention of the wall brings the film up to our present moment with its nonsense talk of putting a wall around Mexico and such.  One of the apes remarks that the wall will not save the Colonel.

The Colonel is a crazed, fanatical leader standing in for all such types.  He and his military unit are at odds with the remaining human military forces that are searching for him.  His character has much in common with Kurtz, the character from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness who becomes a renegade and sets up his own tiny empire in the jungle.  Conrad’s novel was later made into the film Apocalypse Now, which War for the Planet of the Apes namechecks in some graffiti scrawled on a wall which reads Apecalypse Now.  Eventually, an avalanche wipes out both of the human armies—they are bent on destroying each other anyway—and the apes find their way to new lands.  One of the final themes of the movie is that nature always triumphs or at least survives.  

Not as good or as deep as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but better than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes is worth seeing, especially if you are into war movies or follow The Planet of the Apes film series.



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