Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 20 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 4; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6 (Referenced by Jesus in Matt. 9)
Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
Let them pardon and overlook. Would you not love for Allah to forgive you? Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
The Koran, Surah An-Nur 24:22*
Director/co-writer Matt Reeves brings this rebooted trilogy of the Planet of the Apes to a thrilling conclusion that should partially please adherents to all three of the Abrahamic faiths. I inserted “partially” because only after the credits faded did I realize that I was led to applaud the disappearance of the human race, or at the least, a major part of it. By a combination of fine directing and acting, brilliant CGI work, an intriguing script paying homage to numerous films, and composer Michael Giacchino’ stirring music used sparingly amidst stretches of scenes largely silent, this film appeals to the imagination and soul as well as the desire for action-based entertainment. Even the dullest of viewers should come away pondering the question, “Which species is ‘humane’ and therefore deserving to survive?” And for people of faith, as well as lovers of Shakespeare, the film can serve as a visual meditation on “the quality of mercy.”
In 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes the chimp Caesar (Andy Serkin) was intent on maintaining peace between the humans and apes after (in the first film of the trilogy) a world-wide plague had killed off most humans and a scientist had changed the latter by enhancing their intelligence and ability to speak. However, Caesar’s onetime ally Koba (Toby Kebbell), ever distrustful of humans because of painful experiments conducted on him years earlier, along with an equally distrustful leader among the humans, had destroyed the uneasy truce between the two species. Now Caesar is centered on survival—and all too soon, vengeance.
The film opens with a contingent of human soldiers guided by an ape named Red (Ty Olsson), once a follower of the now dead Koba, stealthily creeping up on the apes’ camp deep in Muir Woods outside of San Francisco. After heavy casualties on both sides, Caesar’s side wins the battle, the three surviving soldiers and Red bound by ropes and kneeling before him. The captives expect execution, but Caesar instead orders them mounted on horses (still tied together), saying to them, “I have a message for your Colonel. Leave us the woods and the killing can stop.” When someone asks if he thinks they will deliver his message, the optimistic Caesar says, “They are the message.”
Unfortunately, Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), as mad and head-shaven as Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, believes that humans will be safe only when all apes are dead. (In the film’s poster, you can see written on a soldier’s helmet the slogan,” The only good ape is a dead ape.”) He and his rogue unit that is called Alpha-Omega are based at a walled mountain fortification where they rule over captured apes forced into manual labor. That the references to Francis Ford Coppola’s film are no accident, we see scrawled on a tunnel wall the graffiti “Ape-pocalypse Now.” The wall they are building is for defense against fellow humans who regard them as outlaws, as well as against apes.
Caesar and his band have heard of a beautiful valley some distance away where they hope to avoid contact with humans. However, one dark night a squad led by Colonel McCullough sneaks into the apes’ cave by the waterfall, intent on killing Caesar. During the ensuing fight the soldiers are killed, but not before McCullough shoots and kills Cornelia and Blue Eyes, Caesar’s wife and oldest son. Caesar lunges after the Colonel as he swings on a rope through the waterfall, but the latter escapes when he cuts the portion of the rope to which Caesar is clinging.
That morning Caesar, entrusting his surviving son, young Cornelius, to his daughter-in-law Lake, sends his people off toward the valley. Telling them he will join them later, he insists on going after the Colonel, the once pacific chimp now intent on vengeance. The film morphs into a Western journey of revenge like True Grit, and then at the Alpha-Omega Camp assumes the form of a concentration camp movie, similar to The Great Escape.
However, true to the Western format, Caesar does not set out alone, but is joined by good friends who refuse his commands to stay with the other apes. Rocket (Terry Notary), gorilla Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) and gentle orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) insist that they want to protect him. Along the way they pick up a mute little human girl whom they name Nova (Amiah Miller). She is frightened, so Luca hands her her cloth doll as a gesture that they mean her no harm. He overrides Caesar’s desire to leave her. Like so many humans, Nova cannot speak because she has been infected by the ape virus. The friendship that develops between gorilla and child is one of several tender incidents in the film, especially symbolized by the flower Lucas gives her for her hair, and which later she gives back to him as a sign of her love. Lucas’s act of kindness proves to pay off later, the girl becoming the agent of Caesar’s survival during a frigid night when, a captive of the Colonel’s, he is doused with water and thrown into a prison compound.
Another person they pick up on their journey is a small chimp calling himself Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). Like so many of the plague-exposed apes, he has gained the power of speech, telling them that his name was given to him at the Zoo where he had been kept. He provides numerous moments of levity during the last half of the film, as well as working with Nova to help bring release to Caesar and his fellow captives. As they proceed Maurice warns Caesar that he is becoming like the hate-filled Koba.
When at night the small party approaches the Colonel’s lair, Caesar moves on alone. He comes upon several of his clan tied to St. Andrew-type crosses, apparently left to die of exposure as a punishment. One of them tells him that they were all captured by the Colonel’s soldiers and are being forced to work on a wall. Suddenly Red appears behind Caesar and knocks him out with the butt of his rifle. When he regains consciousness, he sees Col. McCullough. Looks his enemy in the face the soldier exclaims, “My God! Look at your eyes. Almost human.”
This grim sequence is both depressing and inspiring. Depressing in that it reveals how cruel humans can be, the sight of cowering apes surrounded by high barbed-wire fences calling to mind the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. Serving as guards are numerous apes: instead of “Kapo,” they are have written on their backs “Donkey.” Inspiring in that we see the clan, in a pen across from the one in which the battered and beaten Caesar is held, raising their hands as a sign of their solidarity. Among the captives is little Cornelius, crying out for his father. And it is a human, little Nova, working with Bad Ape, who will become the means of their release. Inspiring too, is the moment in which Caesar has the opportunity to wreak vengeance upon the Colonel, and…
There is a bloody battle that involves both the escaping apes and an attack by a large human army arriving in helicopters, intent on bringing the rogue Colonel to justice. The tremors from the exploding bombs, rockers, and shells bring on an apocalyptic destruction of the humans by a huge avalanche of snow.
The quiet conclusion, a Moses-views-the Promised-Land moment, neatly concluding this trilogy, but setting the stage for possible more to come. If there are, let’s hope the same filmmakers will be in charge. For an CGI-enhanced film, this one presents some moral issues of peace and justice seldom seen in this genre. I am really looking forward now to coming up with a set of questions exploring them. What a delightful film to engage a youth group in exploring issues of humanness, vengeance vs. reconciliation, friendship, and peacemaking.
*For more verses on this subject go to Islam.ru: http://islam.ru/en/content/story/forgiveness-quran-and-sunnah
This review with a set of questions will be in the Aug. 2017 issue of VP.