War For The Planet Of The Apes And The Evolution Of Blockbusters

  • Science Fiction
War For The Planet Of The Apes War

Many are championing War for the Planet of the Apes as the crescendo to what has been the closest thing to a flawless cinematic trilogy since Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings . While I wasn’t absolutely bowled over by the first two entries, they’re certainly solid enough movies as to warrant such a distinction tenable. For many reasons, Matt Reeve’s Apes are the ideal blockbuster. Heady but digestible, spirited but not piddling, and thematically ambitious.

These reboots of the accidental cultural milestone, which was the schlocky if not well-intentioned 1968 original, aim to declare not so pleasant things about the nature of humanity. Rise of the planet of the apes, the first and most blockbustery of the three, did so by way of a comparatively one note misanthropic statement about the callous, self-serving conquests of humans, particularly in terms of scientific aspiration, calling into question their reign as the dominant species on Earth. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes complicated things a bit by fleshing out its human players and really doubling down on technological advancement being a perversion of a functional society. Finally, War for the Planet of the Apes, the triumphant final installment of the reboot trilogy, bookends the aforementioned themes of the first two, but this time utilizes decidedly revolting imagery to avail its message. This proves effective. There were moments (the majority of its second act) where I found myself more uncomfortable than perhaps I expected to be during a film that marketed itself as a mitigated, more action oriented film compared to the fearless POW film that is the actual movie.

This time around, the humans are unmistakable emblems of totalitarian misguided bigotry. The one character setup to be the guy that sends audiences home with a pat on the back, “The humans were just desperate not wholly evil because no one is,” defies the convention in a scene that finally thrusts Caesar into the Messiah role the trilogy has been grooming him for. Mark Reeves wastes no time informing the audience about the kind of violent nationalism that fuels the humans — what with Woody Harrelson’s cryptic tattoos, and shaven head, the aggressive war chants of his loyalist soldiers, and the way a shot of a tattered American flag punctuates a lot of the scenes proceeding the big third act finale.  

In the same regard, our simian heroes are undoubtedly allegories for various historically oppressed groups, a fact made clear in some of the most powerful imagery used in a film of its type in a long time. This is not a small film, mind you. This is a film put out by 20th Century FOX, you know, the guys that just released Captain Underpants. Kudos to them for having the balls to green light references to house slaves, white supremacy, and Aryan genocide.

It was refreshing to get the thrills of a tentpole summer movie alongside the thoughtful commentary of an actual filmmaker. From a scene that features an ape ruthlessly whipping another ape, to the larger statement about what it means to be a “pure human” in the form of a plot that sees the simian flu progress in a way that causes humans to lose their ability to speak, it's important not to frame these motifs strictly in lines of black and white. Gleaning easy comparisons will only be a disservice to your viewing experience and to the impressive ambition of the creative team behind the film.  

War for the Planet of the Apes is the next step in blockbuster evolution and I hope to see more movies like it.

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