A great story can come from anywhere. The protagonist doesn’t even have to be human.
When Woody Harrelson’s The Colonel invades ‘the Ape Society’ and kills Caesars younger son, he is pushed into a hell of vengeance. A test he has never really faced so far. A test of dealing with the loss of someone his own. His revengful mindset even distracts him from his tribe which was his main focus in ‘Dawn’. Koba visits him in his nightmares and he begins to wonder what he is feeling may perhaps be no different from how Koba must have felt with the years of suffering and torture from the hands of some humans. Yet the vengeance that drives him is strong and personal. He has a reason to seek the death of a human for the first time in his life.
Cinematographer Michael Seresin (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) is excellent with his wide framing of the beautiful landscapes to ground the otherwise CGI world (just apes mainly) in real snow, water and trees. The film then becomes almost like a western and we’re introduced to the brilliantly acted mute girl who is later named ‘Nova’. What felt magical to me was how the film then starts exploring elements of classical silent films in its storytelling. Certain elaborate sequences in the second act feel suspenseful and clarity of story is achieved without ever really saying much. Michael Giacchino, the composer does probably his best work here. Christian symbolism is also embedded into sequences like the X tree (instead of a typical cross) where Caesar is captured and punished.
And then we also have Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), another genius subplot in this amazing series, an ape who learns to talk by mimicking bad humans and then lives in isolation for years apparently. He provides the required comic relief in an otherwise grim setting. Woody Harrelson has another couple of amazingly paced and purposed expositional scenes with Caesar. Maurice develops as someone who’s learned empathy from the Ape leader and works to save the mute girl Nova, someone who’s not been corrupted yet. She understands the need to protect anyone or anything with potential.
The film is about loss and the need for people to hold on tightly to what keeps them going. When our support systems are wrenched away, we respond with anger and violence. And when there are things in the world that we don’t understand, we respond with fear and battles for control. All of this and so much more is woven through “War for the Planet of the Apes” in a way that often doesn’t hit you until hours or days later. When he finally gets hold of the Colonel, I realized looking at that face that Caesar will be an iconic character, one that moviegoers watch for decades to come. And these films will only grow in esteem and acclaim. Greatness always does.
Director Matt Reeves says this trilogy was Caesar’s Arc into becoming a mythical legend among the apes because he transcends his own anger in a prolonged moment filled with hate and guides his tribe into a place of safety where nature also plays its part in eliminating the problems.
He explained it as ‘A Darwinian Biblical Epic’ and I certainly felt so.