It's been twenty-four hours since my personal screening of this third chapter, and that endless saw continues to haunt my mind; trilogies rarely land with any kind of grace. No matter how fondly we may look back, there's always something not quite three-legged table functional about a trifecta of chapters that perhaps underlies the often fatal flaw of film franchises; familiarity. As studios place increasing burdens upon filmmakers to outdo what has come before, some stories find themselves far more effective when the tension reaches a feverish point, often leaving the audience breathless. As obsessed as many of us may be about resolution, there may be an unspoken within regarding the unanswered question. The edge of the ramp. The moment where the floor drops out of existence, leaving us to grasp endlessly for our own answers.
Which is a long way of saying that despite this initial paragraph, and what it seems to imply, Matt Reeves' second go-round at telling of the Caesar legend reaches its conclusion with grand emotional power, and a dire warning for contemporary humanity.
Several years have passed since the actions of Koba, a lone dissenter ape chose to wage war against humans in an act that dragged the once revolutionary leader, Caesar and his fellow simians into a brutal, neverending conflict. As the feared ape leader and his followers learn of a sanctuary further east, into a desert rich in resources, matters suddenly begin to look hopeful despite revelation of a rogue military clan hot on their heels. Hopes go triple tragic, when their home is ambushed late in the night, leaving Caesar's wife, Cordelia and his eldest son, Blue Eyes dead, and a near broken leader suddenly thirsting for the kind of vengeance he fought so hard to avoid. With only his youngest son, Cornelius at his side, Caesar decides to mobilize his apes to leave for the desert, while he himself seeks out the mysterious Colonel who murdered his family. Suddenly splintered from being the leader his people require, echoes of Koba haunt him, as he may never be able to escape a similar fate. Unwilling to let him go it alone, old friends, Maurice, Rocket, and Luca, choose to stay by his side to ensure that Cornelius still has a father when it is all over.
Soon into their path away from the rest, Caesar and companions meet both an escaped Zoo ape, and a mute young girl. Unsure of where these meetings will take them, fates ultimately lead everyone to the lair of the Alpha Omega, the Colonel's almost cult-like faction of extremists, seemingly bent on not only destroying Caesar and his kind once and for all, but anyone exhibiting a new wrinkle in the evolution of the Simian Virus that decimated the majority of the world. It is in this journey, it is also discovered that there are several apes who have turned their back on their kind in some faint hope that they may be spared. And upon further meeting with the hopelessly wayward Colonel, there is an air that even the remaining real military forces retain hope that a cure could be found, and that one day, they will descend upon him and his soldiers in an apocalyptic final showdown.
Matters have never been more dire for both ape and human.
There simply aren't enough ways to properly express how shocking the dramatic success of this series has become. Taking familiar elements from the classic science fiction series of the past, and repurposing it for something far more sober, and perhaps even biblical, sounds like wishful thinking for film lovers who would love to revisit familiar wells, only to come back parched. But Reeves', since his incorporation into the series, has brought with him an almost God's eye approach to the material, often allowing these films to launch well beyond the almost cynical idea of making Rise, back in 2011. Not unlike Nolan, taking full rein of Warners' intentions of bringing Batman back from almost certain franchise death, and injecting an auteur's blood to the proceedings. Further proof lies in both the performances of all the talent involved, from motion capture, to live actor, to technical genius. What transpires as a result of every corner of the production, is a seamless case of mythmaking that will likely reward long after its theatrical run.
It's been six years since the original Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes presented us with technical wonders that merely scratched the surface of what was to come. And by Dawn, it was pretty clear that massive changes in cinema tech were in the works. But the achievements of War, are above and beyond some of the most awe inspiring I've ever witnessed on a large screen. Never for a moment is there a moment of being disconnected or pulled away. All that prevails, are the various ape characters, their expressions, and forms of communication with each other. It's the closest we've come to a near complete film without simple human speech. There are stretches here that are so bold, lingering with apes, pensive in the dark, gesturing to one another, changing allegiances, that it feels almost like a film made in a world of simians.
But the real lasting legacy of these films will unsurprisingly lie with Andy Serkis, who further makes film history by taking Caesar into even more internal and complex territory by playing a classic revolutionary, now at odds with his own role in the tragedy that is transpiring. Having learned to communicate in a number of ways since he was young, and having possessed the know-how, charisma, and wisdom to bring his kind this far, is at last coming to terms with the reality that he may be no different than the rebellious ape who lit the fatal match. We see it all over his facial expressions and body language as he mulls staying with his people, or seek a personal vendetta. Not to mention his reactions to meeting the Colonel, and at last hearing of his plans, and reasons for them. It is sheer hubris in his eyes and brow that deliver that sense of revelation and understanding. Cesar, is both tragic figure, and classic hero in that he too is mired in the same moral fog that has infected much of humanity.
And representing humanity, are the Alpha Omega, a terrifying vision of humanity in its last breaths. Incapable of seeing the potential in cooperation. Fully aware of what fate awaits them, yet ready to lash out screaming at the world one last time before going out. Harrelson's Colonel, is a chiseled, hollow mold of a human, ready to destroy apes as well as his own kind in the name of what he deems his historical imperative. Unable to process that all sides are suffering, and that they'd likely have a better chance of survival with cooperation. However, with humans now slowly reverting to primitives, there seems to be no real way out but through to the bloody end. He and his troops are on a death ride, and while they're at it, choose to build an absurd wall to protect them from..what exactly? All while subjugating Caesar and his apes to treatment that evokes the slave era. It is a punishing vision of an America bereft of ideas, and death as savior. The deepest, darkest pit in a series that has long been famous for a lack of illumination. The kind of allegorical punch that only today could produce. This is the America we see more and more with each passing day. And it shouldn't be much of a surprise to see how this all transpires.
And while I contend that the dramatic momentum of this installment lacks the pivotal dramatic tension of the previous, there is a sense of natural finality that allows the drama to work like an almost spiritual magic trick. Classic science fiction provokes with visions of our world through a critical lens, and this film is no exception. But what War achieves over everything else in its powerful arsenal, is it allows us to carefully consider this disturbing time in our history, consider pause, and perhaps better understand how ideological purity is merely a human construct - a lapse of judgment.
And that together, we are truly strong.