After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
The third chapter of the Planet of the Apes reboot series opens in the middle of a war between the genetically empowered apes and the surviving humans who are struggling to maintain their position of dominance. A small backstory is provided, explaining how Koba (Toby Kebbell), an ape who could not forgive the experimental atrocities committed by the humans, exacted his vengeance and provoked the war between the two species. But the tangled, blurry lines of ethics and morality are almost immediately brought to the frontlines of this war as you realize that Koba is already dead, killed by Caesar, leader of the apes, in an effort to quell the destructive hate between the two species. Not only that, but the typical patterns of fear and self-preservation unfold as some apes defect to the human side in hopes that their lives will be spared. And later, the apes will realize the humans are also suffering an ironic twist of fate delivered by the virus as it continues to mutate.
The story primarily follows Caesar, the much loved and respected leader of the apes, (Andy Serkis), while Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), the heartless commander of the US Army, is little more than an ominous offscreen presence for the first half of the movie. You will admire Caesar as a revered leader who displays mercy toward the enemy and tries to negotiate peace. You will meet his family. You will witness the apes in their affection, their anguish, and their sacrifice in the war. And then you will be crushed by the devastating loss of Caesar’s wife and oldest son who are killed in a surprise attack by the Colonel. The agonizing personal loss brings Caesar face to face with his own inner Koba of rage and revenge. Koba haunts his dreams as Caesar wrestles with how to answer his pain, vacillating between continuing to protect his followers and getting them to safety…or exacting immediate justice by hunting down and killing the Colonel.
The human relatability is heavily in favor of the apes and yet, it turns out that the Colonel also has a story of heartbreaking loss at the core of his ruthlessness. And it turns out that he too has killed his own kind for what he believes was a greater good for the human outcome. When he eventually meets with Caesar face to face, he marvels at the ape’s insightfulness and exclaims in amazement more than once, “You are so emotional!” – almost as if he can’t help being a little in awe of Caesar’s similarity to his notion of what is human. Gradually, you find yourself conflicted with who should win the war and why…feeling too easily the complexity of your own humanity when faced with all of the right and wrong reasons for war. The good guys are not always entirely good and the bad guys are not always completely bad.
Some of the story elements seem to be blatantly parallel to uglier aspects of American history, such as black versus white racism and Nazi labor camps. They come off as cheap, easy targets to produce a sour taste in your mouth without much effort in originality. Even so, the cinematography and musical score are notably impressive as is the thematic exploration of what really makes us human. Overall, the film depicts a story that is touching and unexpected with thoughtful reflections that should not be missed.
In theaters July 14th