War for the Planet of the Apes (a short study)
2017 ‧ Science fiction film/Drama film ‧ 2h 22m ‧ dir. Matt Reeves
The Battle Against a Planet of Fools - Arsentiy Novak (FR)
One often hears it said that great cinema is dying; Hollywood delivers the hammer-blows of blockbusters unto the coffin of art. The resurrected ‘Planet of The Apes’ franchise proves the lid isn’t shut as tightly as predicted - a predecessor of the newest entry cemented its place as a masterpiece. “War for the Planet of The Apes,” however is not “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” It doesn’t quite reach the same depth, nor the rawness of emotion, despite its screaming name. But it does make one silent. When you are greeted with the credits, there comes a moment when a necessity for silence is paramount, for only then may you begin to comprehend all that is said within this art piece.
Writing this review, I myself am nowhere near finding the omega truth. I was, however, able to piece together some fragments of it, and found that the bridge to connect them all is pureness. The third instalment to the franchises is about pureness; simple and true. Its source are creatures we deem savage, and therein lies the paradox. For reasons incomprehensible, we find ourselves drawn towards the apes. I claim this queer, because self-loving speciesism is present in all creatures; why then do we harbour such disdain for our own kind within the film?
Perhaps it is because in nearly every human character, we are greeted with a dark reflection of ourselves? To an extent, yet this does not seem enough as explanation. What the film does is bravely ask the question: what warrants the establishment of criteria by which we judge morality? The dominant answer within any rational society is ourselves, our intuition. Yet Matt Reeves offers us a different answer; how can human cognition be the answer if the ‘primitive’ species act with the same accordance, if not more ethically? Ceasar does not succumb to thirst for vengeance at the end, nor does he betray his friends. Red stands up to the oppressors of the apes, despite being in servitude to them; his life is taken yet he is redeemed. Bad-Ape disregards his own nightmarish fear and goes against self-preservation to commit to Ceasar’s cause. Such acts lead one to conclude that morality is judged by action rather than source. The criteria for it is to be found within these acts, a comprehension of which is open to all able-minded creatures.
This brings one back to the initial notion of speciesism. It seems that it is precisely because of our inherent narcissism and longing for perfection that we begin to look elsewhere, rather than our fallen representatives. In apes we see creatures worthy of admiration. I dread to use the word ‘persons,’ for it insights our own unsurpassability (nothing could be further from the truth), yet Ceasar’s family does manage to tap into something pure, something beautiful. Something that our kind could only dream of. Here I risk stumbling into the trap of the cliché. We hear a constant dribble that “Planet of The Apes,” at its core, is about role reversal, to show how humans are the savages. This is reductive, simplistic bullshit. Never does the storytelling become lazy as to equate desperation to savagery. Humans are desperate, and in their desperation to survive they commit atrocities. Acts of war. They are not primitive, despite the twist revealed to us by Harrelson’s character. On the contrary, the human danger is very self aware, acting with machine-like pragmatism to execute the calculated terror of its leader. They are left human; driven by the very feeling that makes them so. A fear of the loss of identity. When the clock does strike - when the inevitable happens - that’s when danger is rendered impotent. In primitivity we become harmless; it is the fear of it that pushes us to savagery.
The ‘role-reversal’ piffle poses a risk of muddying the waters. Reeves refuses to lower himself to making subjective propagations within the film, rather choosing to follow Dr Frankenstein. He and Mark Bomback carefully conjoin into their work, the complex elements of life and with this infuse sentience into what is projected onto the screen. Their world is alien, and at the same time most sobering. Just like the Creature in Shelley’s story, the apes exemplify real valiance, real warrant for veneration. They serve as a dose of lucidity to realise our own brokenness, our fall. Reeves invites us to a world where we are tested; what is it that is virtuous, noble, good? The apes are emancipated from the chains of post-modernism; they have no care for ethical dilemmas, relativist pondering or subjective opinion. They know their truth and follow through with it. In doing so, they become a force of unity that makes us confront our own preconceptions on family, personhood, love, hatred and survival. We begin to erase all the usual tripe dressed up in polemics and face our beliefs. On this point, the film is paramount in current day politics, for it uncovers one’s true colours and thereby builds a foundation for thought. When staring into the eyes of Maurice the Orangutan, heart-wrenchingly portrayed by Karin Konoval, as he makes contact with a child born of the enemy all other thought escapes: you are greeted by something unadulterated, something untempered by our world. There can be no doubt on the goodness of the act that follows.
Seresin’s cinematography compliments the story. Stark, beautiful, all-encompassing imagery stands bravely before you, uncompromising in its approach. Each moment is outlined and without fail - original. It could tell the whole story by itself. Each glance, each spoken word, each action is emphasised; one could even be tempted to call the cinematography stylised, were it not for the raw reality of it. Unequivocally, Weta Digital effects team deserve as much praise for their work: within the space of three films, they managed to turn the phenomenal into the noumenal. They are responsible as much as Serkis, Reeves or Bomback for the greatest irony of the film: truth comes from creatures who are not really there.
Nonetheless, as aforementioned, this isn't “Dawn.” Serkis seems to have grown too comfortable in the role, the rawness of the past performances is gone. It is instead replenished by a more human, self-aware complexity. One could of course pin it on Ceasar’s evolution, sighting the writers’ infantile attempt to make him into a Christ-like figure, with the vicarious suffering on the cross. The fact remains, notwithstanding, that our protagonist has lost the brightness of his flame and with it, the depth of character. The nuance that Serkis goes for pays off somewhat, nevertheless it is difficult to grasp, for the marionette is too perfectly controlled by its master. Act I similarly has a faulty start: the audience are expected of too much, with a rushed reintroduction into a pre- established complex world. The story judges itself as already embedded within our minds, and thus not much effort is made to account for the 3-year hiatus from the last entry. Despite this the beginning drags. Much too soon after the first battle, we are transported to the ape refuge, a place of sombreness and melancholy. This is conventionally bleak, so much so that it transcends the screen and enters the auditorium, resulting in a loss of energy and pace. There are some more moments of this kind scattered around the film, however they come seldom and few the more we progress into the story, and by Act III disappear altogether.
By Act III we reach a cocktail with a potency of “Les Miserables” and the colour of “The Last of Us". Even the young girl, touchingly played by Amiah Miller, serves as a young Cosette clinging onto Maurice the Jean Val Jean. Strikingly similar elements persevere in both stories: an innocent child is taken away by a roughened hero, a people struggling for survival and the bloody consequences that come forth from it. The dystopian world is reminiscent “The Last of Us", except in the film overturns the world to see it through the eyes of the apes; in short the three stories are connected in the thematics, with the most important factor being survival and persistence. The mere fact that Reeves’ piece stands on par with these of Hugo and Naughty Dog is a phenomenon in itself, yet what makes it even more a marvel is just how ambitious it is. In an age where self-delusion rules, where subjectivism is deified, where art has been forgotten and diluted summer flicks are offered as appeasement, it dares to make a stand. It isn’t perfect of its kind, but it is worthy.