The final chapter in the new Ape Trilogy is not what I expected. When you see ‘War’ in the title you expect to see pitched battles and apes fighting humans and so on. What we get here is really more of a battle of wills between Caesar, the leader of the apes (Andy Serkis) and ‘The Colonel’ (Woody Harrelson). It reminded me a little of The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957). The film does open and close with big battle set pieces which are very rousing and satisfying but what happens in between is quite reflective and more reminiscent of yet another old classic, Apocalypse Now (1979).
If you’ve seen the first two films you know that Caesar has built an enclave in the woods for his family of apes and the remaining living humans are determined to wiping them out. This film opens in the woods and the human army is planning an assault on a group of apes who are seemingly getting caught off guard. It’s a sneak attack that looks like it’s going to work until you realize it’s been a ruse set by Caesar. The apes swoop in and the humans are wiped out. Caesar allows 2 humans to live and sends them back with a simple message “Leave us the forest”.
Back at their village, Caesar’s oldest son Blue Eyes and his friend Rocket return from a reconnaissance mission to find a new safe haven to take all the apes to. They think they found a perfect place across the desert. Though encouraged to leave immediately, Caesar decides to wait and that evening they are attacked by The Colonel and his men. The Colonel kills Caesar’s wife and Blue Eyes thinking it was Caesar before escaping safely.
This sets in motion Caesar’s journey of revenge.
He sets out with his trusted friend and advisor, the orangutan Maurice, the loyal gorilla Luca and his son’s chimpanzee friend Rocket. The plan is to find The Colonel and his group, which is appropriately called the Alpha Omega, so that Caesar can kill him. Plain and simple. Along the way, they befriend a funny looking chimp called Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who knows where the Alpha Omega camp is and leads them there and a human little girl who is also unable to speak who they take along against Caesar’s initial judgment.
The Colonel and his outfit is a renegade bunch. The Simian Flu which wiped out a large portion of the human race has mutated and now isn’t deadly but renders human unable to speak and regress to a primitive state. The Colonel is determined to wipe out the apes and save the human race. But the rest of the human army view him as a lunatic and consider the Alpha Omegas as a threat as well. Though The Colonel is ruthless and deemed the villain of the film you can understand where he is coming from and Woody Harrelson is an excellent actor and brings a lot of gravitas to the part.
Andy Serkis is always excellent as Caesar. His journey of revenge forces him to confront his own philosophies of what it is to be the leader of apes and his own character flaws. Steve Zahn brings the comic relief and does a great job. There is a lot of reflection in this film and you really get the feeling that this is the end of the world. It’s a dark film and a very confident film under the strong direction of Mark Reeves who also directed the second film Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. While I think Dawn is the strongest of the three films I still enjoyed and recommend War. It is a fitting and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
But my favorite ‘Ape’ film of all time is still and will always be the original! “Get you’re stinking paws off me, you damn, dirty ape!” Classic Heston.