Reviews of War for the Planet of the Apes (2017; dir. Matt Reeves) praised Andy Serkis for his portrayal of the head ape Caesar, who leads the simian rebellion against humanity. To me, Caesar looked a fairly credible but nonetheless artificial, digital creation. Serkis was convincing here as he was in the role of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films—convincing, but never real. He was easy to accept as a character, just as characters in cartoons can be convincing, but he never seemed to be what he was supposed to be: a thinking and talking ape. The basic premise in this third and hopefully final installment in the revived Planet of the Ape series is that the war between apes and humans has reached a standoff. War and disease have nearly wiped out the humans. A spreading virus is causing humans to lose the ability to speak and to think on a high level. The apes are hiding out in the forest. The humans track them down, and carnage ensues.
This film never suggests that there might be two sides to the story. Whatever sins they might have committed, it is understandable that the humans would resist the apes who threaten to take over their world. It’s also understandable that the apes would seek to protect their own welfare. But there are no subtleties in this film. Humans are bad. Apes are good. Ugh.
Woody Harrelson appears as the commander of the human forces. Is there any recent film he hasn’t appeared in? He rivals Samuel Jackson for his number of film appearances. In this one, Harrelson’s character reminds us of Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, and at one point we see the phrase “Ape-pocalypse” scrawled on a wall--some kind of homage?
There’s an Old Testament parallel. The apes in their search for a part of the world where they can live in peace unmolested by humans are like the Israelites in their quest for the Promised Land. Caesar is their Moses, and like his Biblical prototype he dies on a mountain top, overlooking the land he has found for his people, before he can actually enter it himself.