Directed by Matt Reeves.
Pierre Boule’s (1963) novel La Planète des Singes, first translated as Monkey Planet (1964) and later retitled Planet of the Apes, inspired a genre of sci-fi fantasy films I have discussed elsewhere.
This time the apes are living in a tribal, low-tech community in the forest. They are under attack by Alpha-Omega, a small human private army bent on capturing them for use as slave labour. Led by Caesar (Andy Serkis in motion capture) they hold off one attack, but in a subsequent attack led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) Caesar’s wife and son are killed, and although the attackers are defeated the Colonel escapes.
Caesar sets off after him, accompanied by two of his lieutenants and his orangoutang consigliere Maurice (Karin Konoval). Along the way they pick up a young human girl, Nova, who has lost the power of speech, and Bad Ape, a small chimpanzee who escaped some time before from a zoo. They also come across some human soldiers who have been executed and one, still alive, who has lost the power of speech. Apparently, a mutated virus that destroys the speech capacity is the spreading amongst the humans, and the Colonel’s public health measures involve shooting anyone who gets infected. Remember that it was a virus-related that drug gave Caesar the power of speech in the first place. Viruses are cool.
Eventually they arrive at the Colonel’s encampment at the border, which is apparently a border between two human territories. A large number of apes are being held prisoner there, forced to labour at building a high wall. The rest of Caesar’s tribe have also been captured and are being held at the wall.
Up to this point there have been thematic parallels with The Searchers. A small group whose leader is bent on revenge pursue a murderous band of Others. On the way they pick up an innocent Other who attaches to a non-vengeful member of the group. When they catch up they discover they must negotiate between two goals of rescue and revenge. A rescue is effected, but Caesar goes back to have his revenge on the Colonel. At this moment the cavalry arrive in the form of the US Army dressed in winter whites, come to destroy the Colonel’s black-clad renegades. Lots of helicopter gunships and ack-ack, bullets flying and things blowing up, and Caesar scampering through it in search of the Colonel. Finding him, he discovers that the Colonel has been infected by the virus and has lost the capacity to speak. Caesar walks away as the Colonel shoots himself. As bloody resolutions go, it’s OK.
By this time the whites have overcome the blacks and are celebrating; when some of them see Caesar escaping they raise their guns. The only good human is a dumb human, it seems, but at this moment, Nature intervenes.
The humans are finally undone by a natural disaster – the battle has taken place in a snowy valley surrounded by mountains, and it triggers an avalanche which sweeps away the human soldiers and leaves the apes. Is this an ecological metaphor – Gaia striking back? Not quite. The apes escape, and led by a badly wounded Caesar, cross a desert and arrive at a high point from which they can see a beautiful lush valley, a CGI paradise of supersaturated colour, a C. B. DeMille vision of the Promised Land. Like Moses, Caesar is permitted to see the Promised Land that he cannot enter, and as the apes descend he dies, accompanied only by Maurice. This is pure Old Testament stuff, straight from Exodus, Pharaoh’s army destroyed by an avalanche courtesy not of Gaia, but Jehovah. The underlying themes of Rise and Dawn, anti-colonialist , anti-racist and democratic, have been swamped by something that looks suspiciously theocratic.
I suspect that this movie puts the ape genre to bed. In this it resembles Godfather 3, an adequate movie that rounds out the story, but lacking the inspiration of its predecessors.