It feels strange to say that this summer must be the “Summer Of The Dad” when it comes to film.  First, we had the absent father who turned out to be a planet, and a movie communicating the difference between biological fathers and those who were really fathers to us in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2.  Shortly after that came the movie about one man searching for his lost dad and a woman bumping into hers, all while chasing after pirates in Pirates of the Carribean 5: Dead Men Tell No Tales.  Then we had the inspiring dad figure who taught us how to shepherd others in Cars 3.  Following that, we had the adopted father who models good parenting skills even if his background suggests he should have problems in Despicable Me 3.  And now Hollywood brings us War For The Planet Of The Apes.

I know.  I know.  You are wondering how I can be talking about fathers when the movie is about Apes.  Furthermore, you have heard that the central human figure in it exemplifies negligent fathers in their extreme.  Plus, any movie about war cannot effectively be about fathers and their role in our lives.  I am here to say that these Planet of the Apes” movies are an excellent study of the roles of fathers in our lives.  You may have heard rightly about negligent human fathers.  But I do not wish to get into the politics of the movie.  I only want to discuss the nature of the film itself.   And for this, I need to go back to previous two films.

**Synopsis Of Rise And Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes**

We need to understand the development of the film series in order to understand the beauty of the most recent film.  In Rise of the Planet of the Apes we began with Will Rodman, a scientist who was interested in developing a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease.  He tests out chimpanzees with his formula.  This does seem to aid these chimps intelligence.  But a meltdown by one of the chimps cuts off funding for the project.  And the director orders all of them killed.  But Will finds out the real reason for the meltdown.  This happens because the chimp who had a melt down was protecting her child.  Compassion leads Will to bring the child of the chimpanzee home with him to prevent him from being destroyed.  He gives him the name of Ceasar.

Will began this experimental regimen to protect his father who was dying from Alzheimer’s.   And as the drug did have positive effects, he began to test it out on his father.  Five years later the disease returned to Will’s father.   And the community requires Ceasar be sent to a zoo because he tried to protect Will’s dad from an abusive neighbor.  Eventually, Will develops a better drug for testing.  And so experiments on the chimps begin again.  This time they get a chimp named Koba to undergo testing but the results end up catastrophic as one of the testers gets infected with the drug and gets terminally ill.  Will, unaware of the results, tries to bring the drug home to his dad but he refuses to take it and dies.  Will then tries to rescue Ceasar from the Zoo but he refuses to come.

Ceasar then goes and steals this medicine to aid in increasing the intelligence of the other apes around him.  He models the behavior of his human father, Will, trying to help his community grow smarter.  And then he leads them to what he hopes will be the promised land, into the woods.  Will does meet up with Ceasar one last time, warning him that humans will be coming after him and will not leave his community alone, asking him to come home.  But Ceasar informs Will that he is home.

In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Ceasar now leads his group outside the city of San Francisco as humanity has shrunk drastically as a result of that experimental drug Will Rodman was working on.  Survivors of this flu have huddled in San Francisco trying to find ways to return life back to normal.  As the power was shut off, they end up finding a power source in the realm of where the Apes now survive.  The humans beg Ceasar’s group to allow them to hook up the power.

Ceasar reluctantly agrees but does not trust the humans.  Eventually, some bond forms between the humans and Apes until one of Ceasar’s Lieutenants, Koba, decides to seize power for himself and shoots Ceasar, blaming the humans for his death.  Koba then leads the Apes to attack the humans.  Any ape who follows Ceasar’s teachings is imprisoned.

Eventually, a couple of the humans who bonded with Ceasar help him heal.  And Ceasar realizes Apes can be as wicked as humans.  He frees his friends and then goes after Koba, eventually taking him down.  He declares that Koba is not a real ape as Koba falls to his death.  The humans then warn Ceasar that with the power restored, a few of the humans called for the military to come down and take out the Apes.  They warn him that he must find another place for his group.  And Ceasar knows that the humans will never forgive them for what Koba did.  Sad, Ceasar returns to his people.

This leads us all up to the current movie.  As the film has moved from two different groups trying to survive to two different groups into a battle of supremacy, things move forward.  So with that as a backdrop, the Planet of the Apes franchise moves forward.  And with that, I present my review for War for the Planet of the Apes.

Review Of War For The Planet Of The Apes

**Spoiler Alert**

When we begin the latest incarnation of the Planet of the Apes we have a group of soldiers climbing up into the forest seeking out the apes.  They get deep into the hills when they spot the apes climbing around a structure in the hills.  They start to get out their weaponry.  Simultaneously, we find out one of the members of the group is actually an ape.  You are unclear why he would join such a team of men spying on the apes.  And then it gets a bit worse when you recognize that the humans refer to the apes as donkeys.  It is at this point that I was unclear whether these were the equivalent of unevolved pack animals or whether there was something significant about why they were helping the humans.

A large battle ensues with the apes and the humans, with the apes ultimately coming out as victorious.  Several of the humans survived the battle and one of the “donkeys.” They are tied up when Ceasar (Andy Serkis) arrives with his most trusted cohort to interrogate the prisoners.  After a brief exchange, Ceasar takes the ape back as his prisoner and releases the humans as a message of mercy to the army that has been pursuing them.

Shortly thereafter, Ceasars son comes back with his friend from a spying mission.   They spied out the land ahead of them.  (For those who are students of the Old Testament, this does hearken back to Moses taking the people of Israel to the Promised Land.)  But they decide that it is not the right time to go as they are not prepared yet.  This does not sit well with some but Ceasar is such a respected ruler, most defer to his leadership.

Of course, this little peace does not last for long.  And a crew of soldiers infiltrates the extra secret compound of the apes.  For the most part, the Apes take out the humans.  But one of them covertly gets in and kills Ceasar’s wife and eldest son. It turns out to be the Colonel (Woody Harrelson).  Ceasar makes a desperate attempt to avenge his family, but the Colonel escapes.

Realizing the Apes need to move on from where they are at, Ceasar tells Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Rocket (Terry Notary) to lead his people to the promised land for him.  He needed to take care of the Colonel and avenge his families murder.  They refuse to abandon him and leave others to take the apes on.  So Maurice, Rocket, Ceasar, and Luca set off to find the Colonel and take him out.

They are hoping to distract the humans and allow the apes they left behind to escape the area.  They also realize they might not survive this assault.  Along the way to get the Colonel, they meet a human girl who cannot talk (Amiah Miller) who they give the name of Nova.  And they meet a fellow chimp who has given himself the name of “Bad Ape” (Steve Zahn) as a result of all the men who called him a bad Ape in the past.

They eventually do get to the Colonel, only not everything is as it seems, and life there has taken a decided turn for the worse for Ceasar and his people.  Of course, as we know, the Apes will eventually escape the humans and move on.  But I do not want to get into the finer intricacies of the plot because I do not wish to spoil everything.  There is a ton of rich subject matter to discuss there.  And maybe I will discuss it in the future.  Suffice it to say a lot of it has to do with what it means to be a father, and what fathers are ultimately responsible for.

**End Of Spoilers**

What makes this film consequential, I believe, is the focus that they place on the fathers that are out there.  Ceasar is not only the father of two kids, but he is the father of his people.  The Colonel, likewise, was the father of his men, as well as a literal father, who made a very important choice.  It’s very clear that the difference between a good and a bad father is the difference between someone who listens to his people and one who refuses to.

What I do love about how War does not make people out to be innocent, not even Ceasar.  But what makes Ceasar ultimately a better dad is the ability to see beyond appearances and the acknowledgment that he does not have all of life’s answers.  By taking the time to see what happens around him, Ceasar is able to lead his people effectively.  And ultimately, he leads them to the promised land.

What I love even more about this film is that all choices end up having consequences.  And even those who we would root for, do not always end up having happily ever afters.  Because every choice we make can affect our lives in significant ways.  It just shows the importance of not leaping into action based upon emotion.  Instead, often we need to take a pause and reflect if we are going to be the kind of dads that we want to be for our children.  I love these “Planet of the Apes” movies because they show the complexity of the decision making dads go through. And they do it with love and understanding, not merely making the fathers out to be foolish.  Now whether the film makers have something against human beings is an entirely different argument.

Final Grade: For spectacular cinematography, brilliant special effects, amazing performances and a meaningful screenplay I give War for the Planet of the Apes 3.5/4 stars.


Continue The Conversation

Have you seen any of the Planet of the Apes movies yet? If not, why not?  What have you thought of Andy Serkis in the role so far?  Is there any resonance with the Lord of the Rings movies he stars in?  What has been your favorite Andy Serkis performance so far?  I would love to hear from you about Serkis, this series of Planet of the Apes Movies, or whether you liked the original ones better and why.

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And until next time, this is me signing off.

David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life