WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
IN THE 1970s, the Planet Of The Apes films got smaller and smaller, attempts to maximise profits leading to diminishing creative returns. Four decades on, the opposite is true for the revived franchise, where the key word might be “escalation”. Origin story Rise Of The Planet Of
The Apes was almost a domestic story, leading to intellectually awakened apes assaulting the Golden Gate Bridge. Sequel Dawn upped the action and had its share of big battles. But writer/director Matt Reeves’ latest instalment in the adventures of chief chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis) is an all-out War For The Planet Of The Apes. “We looked at the original movie, of course,” says Reeves, “but this time we also took inspiration from films like Paths
Of Glory and The Bridge On The River Kwai.”
The movie picks up two years on from Dawn, with apes and humans still at loggerheads. Following the destruction of their habitat at the end of the previous film, Caesar has led his tribe back into the woods, and become an almost mythical figure to the human military forces on his trail, led by Woody Harrelson’s Colonel (see right) and his elite unit, the Alpha-omega (a nod to the bomb cult from 1970’s Beneath The Planet Of The
Apes). Saddled with a war he didn’t want thanks to the actions of Koba, Caesar is in an anguished state, the peace he desires seemingly unattainable. “He’s at rock bottom,” says Serkis, “and it’s been interesting playing a side of him that’s full of rage, but buttoned-down because he’s on a mission. He’s usually a peace-broker who considers everything carefully, but this time something tips him over the edge. There’s an event early on that sends him off on a revenge journey.” Hellbent on completing his quest, he only grudgingly allows Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) to accompany him.
After two largely static films, the series’ scope is set to become broader, the apes’ journey taking in lush forests, beaches, abandoned hotels, military compounds, caves and ultimately a mountain range — where Serkis says the technology is “snow-cap” as opposed to mo-cap. Between Rise and Dawn there were considerable developments in motion-capture technology, resulting in much excitement about wet fur. This time the leap has been more incremental, but there
will be frosty pelts, not to mention many complex environments for the VFX techicians to negotiate.
As Caesar and his cohorts trek on, there’s a mystery to be solved involving the Colonel’s enigmatic background, and the impromptu adoption of an orphaned human child (Amiah Miller). Then there’s the revelation that ape intelligence has spread beyond Caesar’s immediate community: Caesar encounters a new ape (Steve Zahn), who escaped from a circus years back and has been evolving alone. “A French journalist asked me a couple of years ago if French apes are smart too,” smiles producer Dylan Clark. “I thought that was a great question, and here we get the answer: there are definitely other smart apes out there.”
As well as boasting spectacular set-pieces, this promises to be the most emotional instalment yet. Serkis enthuses about Caesar’s “really rich arc” in the film, as he comes to realise the futility of the path he’s taken. Reeves says there are also Western elements, particularly evoking Clint Eastwood’s gritty ’70s classic The Outlaw Josey Wales.
“You’re getting all these incredible actors to play these apes and relating to them as real characters,” the director enthuses. “We never lose sight of what’s going on at an intimate level.” As is traditional for the Apes series since its beginnings in Pierre Boulle’s novel, War For The Planet Of The
Apes provides ample opportunity for metaphors relating to our own world. The spectacle continues to serve the central gloomy question: why can’t we all just get along?
Relations between humans and apes are showing no signs of getting any easier. Well, it’s not called ‘Polite Wager For The Planet Of The Apes’.