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The thin line between apes and humans

  • 26 July 2017


War for the Planet of the Apes. PG-13. Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval. 2 hours 20 minutes.

I came to the Planet of the Apes films a little late, thinking it was just a bit too far on the silly side for my tastes. But with time to kill on a holiday in 2014, I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and found myself surprisingly invested in the emotions of the characters. Released in Australia today is the latest episode: War for the Planet of the Apes.

For a semi-digital character, Caesar (Andy Serkis, reprising his voice and motion-capture performance of the previous films) has immense gravitas, making the whole premise that much easier to buy. As the series’ protagonist, Caesar is a somewhat humanised ape, turned reluctant warrior, who protects apes and leads the rebellion against human oppression.

While War for the Planet of the Apes is perhaps not my favourite of the series, I was kept adequately enthralled by Caesar’s journey throughout, which is due in no small part to Serkis’ ability to convincingly embody a humanoid ape. I feared for the wellbeing of the apes, and grimaced in turn at the mirror held up to human tribalism and its atrocities.

In this latest instalment, apes and humans are engaged in an open all-out war which sees Caesar lead his followers into the forest where they set up and camp and defend their hideout. Importantly, their camp is located within access of an alleged paradise where the apes are promised all the food, water and freedom they could ever want.

This aspect of the plot flagrantly borrows from the story of Moses and the Promised Land—yet the suitability of this analogy strengthens as the story goes on. Caesar’s community endures a brutal attack from the enemy (along with several apes who’ve renounced their species in favour of human servitude). The attack is not without significant casualties, and Caesar’s purpose is set; he embarks on a journey for justice and revenge.

His motivations are conflicted, and the very essence of his character is put to the test. Is he a vengeful being, consumed by hate and no different to his infamous nemesis Koba who caused the community’s undoing? Or is he a devotee of non-violence (or rather, violence only in defence) simply seeking to keep his kind safe from human-inflicted harm?