By Subhash K. Jha
Film: “War For The Planet Of The Apes”; Director: Matt Reeves; Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn; Rating: ****
Let’s not beat around the bush. This is a great, a truly great, piece of cinema. Slicing across a string of superbly scripted segments of the ape-hero’s biblical journey into the heart of darkness, “War For The Planet Of The Apes” is the kind of achievement that makes us wonder if the motion picture came into being to capture this exquisite uncompromising work of tragic grandeur.
Director Matt Reeves constructs the conflicts of the human heart in an evangelical spiral. There is more than a dash of ecclesiastical exhilaration in the ape-hero Caesar’s journey from irredeemable loss to hard-earned redemption. The journey is so well-charted by the brilliant screenplay (by Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves) that the visual manifestation of the written words becomes a faithful rendition of images that must have seemed nigh-impossible to put on screen.
But here we have it. Cinema was always about trying to achieve an unimaginable visual exposition while remaining faithful to the writer’s imagination. Many times, while I sat riveted to the 2 hours and 20 minutes of the narrative, I felt I was reading a piece of literature. Words seem welded into director Reeves’ visuals. I heard every punctuation mark even as the narrative paused unnoticed to dwell on the theme of humanism in a world where decency and compassion have gone for good.
For those familiar with the “Planet Of The Apes” series, and even those who aren’t, would have no trouble getting into the narrative’s robust rippling rhythms, Caesar’s pained journey across an epic landscape to avenge the murder of his wife and son, would seem like a routine vendetta saga where human being are replaced by apes.
The thing about revenge dramas is, they hold our attention only when the avenging hero’s adversary is formidable. Here is where this melancholic masterpiece attains a nirvanic level of excellence. Woody Harrelson, who plays the renegade army officer, simply called the Colonel, is to Caesar what Judas was the Jesus.
He is also a bastardized offshoot of the mysterious crazed amy man Marlon Brandon played in Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
The moral conflicts between Caesar and the Colonel are riveting not only because of the thought provoking discourse on the destruction of civilization but also because the two actors argue their points of view with disconcerting conviction.
Both Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson lend a powerful tenability to their roles, pitching the metaphor of Good and Evil at a decibel where their voices resonate across the cosmic order.
Besides Caesar, all the other ape characters are designed to take the narrative to a disquieting deliverance. Specially interesting was a zoo-escaped ape called âBad Ape'(Steve Zahn) who is scared and inhibibited by his own losses. Yet, he emerges a hero alongside Caesar. The appearance of a little mute girl who tags along with Caesar and his faithful lieutenants seemed like too much Logan for me.
The narrative revels in heightened emotions and drama. The characters are not ashamed to shed tears at the destruction of civilization. The film’s magnificint maudlinism is a great energy booster for the plot.
Reeves shoots the sequences of war conflict between Man and Ape with a reined-in grandeur where we are stunned by the brutality without being sucked into the violence. The war camp where apes are held captive deliberately evokes Nazi images to create a chilling statement on how close civilization is to self-destruction.
But why oh why, has this film been made in 3D? Bad idea. It almost destroys the profound connectivity between us and the characters. Finally though, nothing is able to distract us from the magniloquent discourse on the destruction of humanism. That apes are shown to be more humane than the human beings is not a clever scripting device. It is a matter of immense concern, here bottled into brilliant battle between the brutal and the beautiful.
Magically the sadness that we carry after the film nourishes our senses, energises our moral values and renews our faith in human kind.
This is film that can change lives. If only we look deep enough into ourselves to see why the theme of destruction has a direct bearing on the arbitrary crimes against humankind that we see all around us.