"War for the Planet of the Apes," 2017, directed by Matt Reeves
The deep ecologists will like this film. The apes – chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos - live with fire and in log huts, use spears and commune with nature. In this film they survive the humans, who are shown as uniformly militaristic, cruel and unreliable, even with their remaining technology. Nature itself, in the form of an avalanche, seems to agree.
The plot is that the simian virus, which killed many humans, is now making humans unable to talk too (humanities’ defining characteristic is talking, according to the filmmakers…) As a result, ‘Humanity,’ in the form of soldiers following a modern Colonel Kurtz (Woody Harrelson, also called ‘The Colonel’) will kill any ape or human who opposes them or who exhibits the virus. The rationale is that this will ‘save humanity.’ Co-existing with apes is off the table, though there is no evidence that this ‘virus’ is coming from apes themselves. The Colonel’s slogan on their prison camp is “The Only Good Kong is a Dead Kong” – which might remind viewers of similar ideas about the Viet Cong or native Americans.
The logic in this scenario is that this ‘flu’ was not something humans brought on themselves – unlike something like the actual swine or bird flu, which are produced by animal overcrowding in factory farms. It may be similar to Ebola, which was originally transmitted from fruit bats or monkeys – even from domesticated pigs or dogs - to humans. So the cause of this dystopia is nature itself, animals themselves, and not directly connected to how human society was functioning. It is nature playing out, like the Black Plague. So the film reflects a fear of nature – also reflected in the fear of animal intelligence as exhibited by the talking apes. It is really a film about the war between man and nature.
A somewhat shacked-up moral subtext of the film is that Ceasar, the bonobo leader played by Andy Serkis, has so much anger that he might kill people he shouldn’t. This is ostensibly following Koba’s methods from the prior film, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” (reviewed below). Ceasar does, somewhat accidentally, smother a traitorous ape Winter in order to keep him from crying out for the human soldiers for help. This scene reminds one of a similar situation from “Native Son," but that is not what the filmmaker wants you to think about. However, Koba was not killed by Cesar in the prior film because he was a violent war leader, but because he started attacking and jailing his own people – the apes.
The apes ultimately show more ‘humanity’ and mercy than the humans by far. Like the aliens in ‘District 9’ or in ‘Avatar,’ or the animals in “Tarzan” or the classic ape in “King Kong” - our sympathies lie with them. Their emotional character is evident, especially in the characters of Maurice and a chimpanzee they come across, Bad Ape. They even adopt a young human girl who has lost her voice. At one point, Ceasar is crucified like a simian Christ for his sin of attempting to relieve the suffering of his fellow apes . One human soldier released in a show of mercy by Ceasar ultimately fails to show his ‘humanity’ in return. In contrast, a traitorous gorilla who had followed Koba and was now working for the humans at least helps the apes in a penultimate scene.
Is there another sequel? The apes leave the forests and mountains of California to settle away from any humans, arriving at a somewhat desolate lake that looks like Crater Lake in southern Oregon. They bring the young girl, who may grow up to be a female “Tarzan.’ Do we need more senseless warfare between ape and man? Well for one, you certainly won’t see a mass conversion to vegetarianism among the reviewers or viewers of this film. Unless this series develops some kind of more advanced political or environmental content, I think it can be put out of its dark misery.
Red Frog July 21, 2017