Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on the film.
I’ll admit, in 2011 when Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released, I was a sceptic. Honestly, the trailers did nothing for me, leaving me unimpressed and unmotivated to see the movie in the theater. So I didn’t. I ended up seeing the movie on a whim with some friends, at home, because we had heard so many people raving about it. It won us all over, so much so that after it was over we turned on the original Planet of the Apes because we were so enthused by what we had just seen. Fast forward to 2017 and the last film in the trilogy has been released, War for the Planet of the Apes, completing the saga and leaving me with the same desire, to watch the original to connect the dots.
The movie begins with humans attacking an ape base. The apes are able to repel the invaders and Caesar sends four captives back to the human colonel as a peace offering. His message is simple, allow us the woods and the fighting can end. Sadly, there is no mercy in the Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson, only hate and hubris. The Colonel cannot let the apes live, cannot show mercy. He’s driven by fear, fear of the virus, apes and even himself.
There is a moment between Caesar and the Colonel when Caesar has been captured and the Colonel explains his rationale for what he’s doing. Humanity has begun changing again. The Simian flu virus has begun to evolve and it’s leaving humans unable to speak. It’s unclear whether it’s truly affecting their reasoning as well, but the Colonel has no mercy on them, even his own son. He willingly sacrifices his own son and anyone else that is caught with this virus to try to protect the rest of humanity. He speaks of learning from history but his actions shows he clearly hasn’t, as his first reaction with these humans as well as the apes is to just kill what he is afraid of or doesn’t understand.
Caesar finds himself mirroring the Colonel and Koba (from the previous 2 films). As man and specifically the Colonel, continue to take more and more from him, he finds it harder to let go of his own hate and show forgiveness and mercy. Yet, there is a moment in the film, where he’s faced with a similar situation as the Colonel, does he leave his son to die to save the rest of the apes, or does he find another way? He chooses the love of his son and all the other ape children over the “smarter” call. Caesar embodies the idea that the right thing is the right thing to do, even if it’s the hardest thing.
Even after all this, Caesar cannot let go of his hate for the Colonel, so with all his people making their way to safety, he seeks revenge, one last time. What he finds is poetic justice, the Colonel has succumb to the enhanced virus. It takes all Caesar’s will and mercy to not pull the trigger and just walk away. It’s a powerful moment. Caesar let’s go of his hate and thirst for vengeance. It brings to mind Deuteronomy where the Lord says, “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution…”. Here the vengeance is swift and sure, as man’s hubris and god-playing are rewarded with a destructive avalanche and a virus, robbing them of their faculties.
One of the most beautiful messages of the film comes from the mute girl Nova, that Maurice adopts after the apes kill her caretaker that has tried to kill them. This unwanted girl has the updated Simian virus and Caesar would leave her to die (as would the Colonel), yet Maurice shows compassion and love for her. Yes, she is mute, but just because she cannot speak, does not mean she has no value. So many children are lost today because they are unwanted or their parents are told they will be born with a debilitating disease. Nova, because of Maurice’s mercy turns out to be instrumental in saving not just Caesar but the rest of the apes. She might not be able to speak, but her mind is still sharp allowing her to learning sign language from the apes. All humans, born and unborn, sick, infirm or strong and viral, have dignity and the right to life. As with Nova, who might they turn out to be if given the chance to live?
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:13-16
The unwanted, the unloved, the accident, the sick, they are all made the same, in the image of God and who have we lost, simply because they were unwanted?
It is also a powerful reminder of our relationship in relation to God. As the Apostle Paul puts in the Book of Romans,
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
We were once enemies of God, yet he shows us mercy and grace, that in our most rebellious and unloveable, he offers forgiveness and reconciliation. A reflection of our closeness to God is our reaction to the most unwanted. Our capacity for mercy, increases as our understanding of our need for it from God expands. For God, no one is unwanted.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. john 3:16 & 17
This movie has so many other themes I could talk about, but honestly, just go see it. It’s a triumph of filmmaking. The effects are some of the best ever seen on screen. There was never a moment I didn’t believe what was happening. The music was moving and perfectly matched to the film. War for the Planet of the Apes is the perfect conclusion to one of the best film trilogies in years. It’s rated 5 out of 5 Bad Apes.