War for the Planet of the Apes
photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
The war for the planet of the apes is seemingly fought on two fronts. On one side is the troop of freedom-fighting primates still led by their hyper-intelligent leader, Caesar (Andy Serkis). On the other is an unseen but approaching human army, temporarily tasked with terminating one of their own, with extreme prejudice.
In the middle is a colonel (Woody Harrelson) whose name tape reads McCullough, but who may as well be called Kurtz. The bald colonel speaks in messianic riddles, controlling his renegade paramilitary faction, named Alpha-Omega, through fear and fevered enlightenment about the future of mankind now that the Simian Flu has mutated, robbing humans of their cognitive and communicative essence rather than just their existence.
The conspicuous phrase scrawled on a tunnel wall beneath the colonel’s compound says it all: “Ape-pocalypse Now.” The similarities between Harrelson and Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now
aren’t coincidental, nor are the parallels between the forest-dwelling simians and the Viet Cong—soldiers even nickname the apes “the Kong.”
While the colonel’s methods are cruel and detestable, they’re also the prescient product of what the colonel sees as the only way to preserve humanity and prevent a planet of apes. “This is a holy war,” the colonel says, and he fortifies his compound/concentration camp using enslaved apes and turncoat gorillas—derisively nicknamed “donkeys” by the humans—to erect a border wall.
The overarching metaphor across this Planet of the Apes
reboot trilogy is Caesar as Moses, an orphan who rebels against his adopted family and becomes a leader of his birth tribe, along the way prescribing a set of governing commandments, e.g., “Ape shall not kill ape.” In War
, Caesar must free his “people” from bondage so they can embark on a desert trek to a new homeland, whether Caesar makes it there or not.
However, the real war is the battle for Caesar's soul, a struggle between Old Testament-style wrath and New Testament-style redemption. An unspeakable loss fuels Caesar’s quest for revenge against the colonel, who epitomizes man’s heart of darkness, if you will. The counterpoint is a mute orphan who Caesar and his benevolent adviser Maurice adopt, an innocent whose Chevy-inspired given name represents the first apparent tie-in to the original 1968 Planet of the Apes
While she represents the elusive hope for peaceful coexistence, she is also a harbinger of human subservience. Caesar may find his salvation, but the gorilla warfare isn’t over.