War for the Planet of the Apes:
the rise of an intolerant America?
A movie midway between a blockbuster and a biblical epic
By Luc Archambault
I took my time to truly digest War for the Planet of the Apes, the third instalment in the Planet of the Apes reboot. Not that it is a bad film, quite the contrary; but the moral ground it adopts leaves something of a bitter taste in retrospect.
You probably already know the story: the apes, under the guidance of Caesar, are living and thriving, especially after the Koba misadventure (as seen in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014). But the humans of the Alpha-Omega community (a reference to the Doomsday bomb at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, 1969), living in the ruins of San Francisco under the command of the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), are on the warpath and plan on exterminating the growing ape community. They attack the compound, killing a number of apes, including Caesar’s wife and young son.
While the simian community decides to relocate far away across the desert, Caesar embarks on a vengeance mission to confront the Colonel, accompanied by Maurice, Luca and Rocket. The small group encounters an isolated human soldier living in an abandoned village who is shot and killed by Caesar when he reaches for his riffle. The apes then discover that he was trying to protect his daughter, a mute unable to speak. Maurice adopts her and baptizes her Nova (again, a reference to the first film, Planet of the Apes, 1967).
What troubles me more than this barely veiled reference is the homogeneous composition of the chosen people.
After meeting up with Bad Ape, a very intelligent chimpanzee living in the ruins of the Sierra Zoo who agrees to lead them to the Colonel, Cesar and his companions finally arrive at the relocalized Alpha-Omega compound, where they find the rest of their ape clan enslaved by the humans and building a wall without food nor water. The Colonel, having captured Caesar and recognizing his tactical intelligence, confesses to him that the Simian Flu, after having decimated the human race, had mutated, producing in surviving humans a devolution through which they become mute and regress back to a primitive state. On a holy war path and striving for the survival of mankind, the Alpha-Omega community is under orders to kill off any infected humans, including the Colonel’s own son.
Of course, not all humans share this goal and an army from the north marching against Alpha-Omega attacks the compound while the apes are being freed by Caesar and his accomplices. But not before Caesar reaches the Colonel, lying in his lair, having fallen victim to the virus and unable to speak. Caesar puts down his gun, but the Colonel uses it to shoot himself.
During the battle between the human armies, Caesar manages to blow up Alpha-Omega’s fuel supplies, causing an avalanche that wipes out both opponents, while the apes take refuge in nearby trees. The surviving ape community crosses the desert, and as they glance at the verdant valley ahead, Caesar dies from the wounds he suffered in the battle. The biblical implications are obvious here. Caesar is the new Moses, having freed his people from the Egyptians, and leading them to the promise land, but never reaching it himself, but dying at its border.
Is it a philosophical retreat to a fascist frame of mind, even if is stemming from traditionally leftist Hollywood?
What troubles me more than this barely veiled reference is the homogeneous composition of the chosen people. Whereas in the first installment of the Planet of the Apes films, most notably Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1973, on which this film is based, we see, at the conclusion of the film, a projection into the future, some hundred years after the events of this ‘battle’ between humans and apes, in which there are humans living harmoniously alongside the ape community. Only the mutant humans are aggressors in this scenario, and both humans and apes live in harmony and respect.
But, in War for the Planet of the Apes, the conclusion is quite different. There remains only one human alive, Nova, and she is affected by the Simian Flu virus. The chosen community is therefore only made up of apes. A pure racial and religious community. Is this the current view emanating from Hollywood? Is it a philosophical retreat to a fascist frame of mind, even if is stemming from traditionally leftist Hollywood? I must admit that this film deeply unsettled me for that reason. Especially in this age of rising conflicts between ideologies, nations and economies.
There is now talk of three to four more movies to be added to this franchise. Now where will this new scenario take us? The storyline seems closed at the end of War for the Planet of the Apes, with Caesar’s death. Oh, of course, we have Nova and Cornelius, Caesar’s surviving son, to take us to a new chapter, but this would be a rehash of the original films, of course. I just hope it won’t involve the astronaut Taylor, returning ‘home’ from a flight into space/time… But with Hollywood, and especially the bad taste and poor judgement shown so far, who knows?
But, in the end, this film remains definitely a must see in this summer’s crop. The twists and turns of the scenario are surprising enough to satisfy the most ardent sci-fi fan, the only stumbling block being the modification and modernization of the storyline when compared with the original films. But if you’re in tune with racially homogeneous communities, then you should run to see this movie; you will enjoy it. If not, it might make you shudder in your seat and anxiously await the coming apocalypse.
Images: courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Writer and journalist, globe-trotter at heart, passionate about movies, music, literature and contemporary dance, came back to Montreal to pursue his unrelenting quest for artistic meaning.