If you grew up loving the original “Planet of the Apes” movies, you probably know the newest incarnations of the series operate on a different plane.
Freed of the initial novelty of disguising familiar actors in gorilla makeup – thanks especially to the advances in computer-generated imagery – they’re concentrating on the deeper, allegorical implications of a world that makes mankind seem primitive against intelligent simians. And, as has long been known, that world actually is our future Earth.
The conflict between the species now comes to a head in “War for the Planet of the Apes,” which boils the larger battle down to one between two individuals: the ape Caesar, played in an amazingly good motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis, and a human enemy known as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson).
That military man has wiped out Caesar’s family, so it’s time for revenge, played out against a backdrop in which other apes have to decide whether to stand and fight, or to join the humans to save themselves. Of course, in these times, you can go as deep as you want with the analogy to the real world.
Director Matt Reeves returns from the last “Apes” chapter (“Dawn of the … ”), and he obviously has a firm grasp on the theme and the mood. In fact, there are certain moments in “War” when you might think you’re watching the last movie over again. In fairness, though, this territory is what it is – and that even dates back to the 1968 “Planet of the Apes.” It’s man vs. simian, and if the twain shall meet, that usually doesn’t last long.
Modern times have put an added overlay of relevance on the series that’s unavoidable. If the saga was an allegory to begin with, it’s that much more in the present day, particularly as it deals with splinter groups within one faction. As the legendary closing scene of the first movie proves, there never have been easy answers in “Planet of the Apes” (save for the live-action television version, in which each crisis of the week needed a resolution by the hour’s end), and they surely don’t come any more easily now.
Some still may wish simply to take “War for the Planet of the Apes” as escapist entertainment. You can appreciate it does, but you still can yearn for the less-complicated days when Charlton Heston first landed on the planet, too.