Graffiti sprayed by an ape on the walls of an underground tunnel describes this thrilling movie in a nutshell: ‘Ape-pocalypse Now’. The iconic 1979 Vietnam War movie isn’t writer/director Matt Reeves’ only reference in his long-awaited War For The Planet Of The Apes, but it’s a prominent one. This is a meditation on the futility of battle. And like all Apes classics, it has a pointed relevance to the present day.
It’s now 15 years since the events of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, which introduced us to super-ape Caesar (played via motion capture by Gollum guy Andy Serkis), and which saw the simian flu trigger an ape-versus-man standoff. We rejoin Caesar and his troop hiding high in the woods, two years on from the carnage of Dawn. With his family threatened, Caesar – still haunted by the death of fellow ape Koba and plagued by the mantra ‘Ape shall not kill ape’ – goes on a mythic Western-like hunt for his nemesis the Colonel (Woody Harrelson).
Harrelson delivers a snarling turn as the film’s sinister villain, the unhinged leader of cult soldiers the Alpha Omega. Their ongoing battle is backed by seamless CGI, with breathtaking vistas of the apes journeying through war-torn forests and into the High Sierra’s snowy wilderness.
In one pivotal scene, the Colonel interrogates Caesar to the strains of Jimi Hendrix anthem ‘Hey Joe’, once more conjuring images of the Vietnam War and ’60s counter-culture. The abiding message filters through to a moving climax for Caesar, and one that humankind could really learn from: ‘Apes, together, strong’.