Review by Tim Lam
Perhaps a movie about talking apes is the last place audiences would expect to find Christian imagery. But War for the Planet of the Apes is not just one of the best films this year; it is also one of the most powerful biblical epics in recent times.
War is the final instalment of the rebooted Apes trilogy, which began with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Set two years after the events of Dawn, a simian flu has wiped out most of humanity and ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) finds himself hunted by the mysterious Colonel.
When tragedy strikes, Caesar must wrestle with his darker instinct for vengeance as he sets off on a personal quest to take down the Colonel.
Accompanying Caesar is his loyal orang-utan friend Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a new addition who provides comic relief to an otherwise bleak film. Along the way they are joined by Nova (Amiah Miller), a human girl from the original Planet of the Apes (1968) film.
Woody Harrelson plays the crucifix-wearing Colonel, leader of the rogue military force Alpha and Omega, a title used for God in the Book of Revelation.
The Colonel sees himself as humanity’s last defence and embarks on a ‘holy war’ to preserve the last remnants of human civilisation.
Throughout the trilogy, Caesar has adopted a position of peaceful co-existence. He is a reluctant leader, drawn into the human-ape conflict through circumstance rather than choice.
But the Colonel does not share Caesar’s affinity for pacifism and believes in protecting his race through genocide.
Director Matt Reeves re-watched biblical epics such as The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur prior to filming War.
In War, Caesar is a Moses-like figure tasked with the responsibility of leading his apes to the ‘promised land’.
The scenes of apes forced to labour for their human captors echoes the enslavement of the Israelites in the Book of Exodus. There is even a metaphorical ‘parting of the Red Sea’ moment, in the form of an avalanche.
Backed by a sombre score from composer Michael Giacchino, War is an intentionally grim film set against the backdrop of an apocalyptic landscape. This is a lonely and desolate world, the twilight of human civilisation. War is often brutal and unrelenting, but there are also moments of tenderness and unexpected redemption.
The Apes trilogy has been lauded for its photorealistic motion-capture technology and War shows how far visual effects have come since the prosthetic-wearing days of the original Planet of the Apes film. Yet for all the praise War will receive for its ground-breaking CGI, it is the characters who will stay with audiences long after the credits roll.
War is a rousing, epic and poignant conclusion and a fitting finale to one of the best science fiction trilogies in the past decade.