By Shane Redd and Gerald Smith
For movie fans hoping for some semblance of a political perspective to offset what has become a repetitive and mostly stale Hollywood, the summer 2017 movie season remained mostly apolitical. Yet one summer film represents that bright shining star in a Hollywood sky filled with dull mindless remakes.
War for the Planet of the Apes is part three of what has become one of the more inspiring movie trilogies of the decade; it’s also a major studio production (20th Century Fox) that has consistently highlighted the danger of the capitalist system and its potential to lay waste to the large majority of humanity, while offering a glimpse of the potential barbarism in store for the unfortunate souls who survive. War for the Planet of the Apes is the third film of 20th Century Fox’s reboot of the critically acclaimed 1968 original film — Planet of the Apes, based on French author Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel – La Planete des Singes. With War, fans of the trilogy can appreciate the highly relevant themes they’ve come to expect from watching Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes , including: Mans ceaseless attempts to manipulate and conquer nature, the dangers of shadowy capitalist industry (biotech, robotics, etc.), animal liberation, the importance of leadership, and socialism vs. barbarism. Each of these themes will inform the analysis of the film and help draw parallels with present-day capitalist realities.
At the opening of the third film, a mere fifteen years has passed since Caesar and his fellow apes uprising from captivity and escape into the redwood forests of Northern CA. In those fifteen years, planet earth has seen over 90% of humans killed off by a simian flu virus created in a Biotech research corporation (Gen-sys laboratories) experimenting on apes in the hopes of curing Alzheimer’s.
Gen-sys is the biotech corporation where Caesar, a chimpanzee, and his mother before him were given samples of an experimental Alzheimer’s drug that allowed for their intelligence evolution. With the first film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, audiences are given a crystal clear glimpse of the dangers inherent with shadowy profit-driven capitalist industry. This danger becomes more significant and relevant to the present-day when considering the neoliberal deregulation that has become a staple of late capitalism. Humanity could any day come face to face with a contagion that wipes out the vast majority of people, with the survivors similarly blaming the victims, in the film the victims are the apes and the masses– all guinea pigs of profit driven biotechnology and big Pharma fantasies.
In the second film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, we see the contrast between two communities of survivors. The apes, led by Caesar, have set up a communal society and are thriving in the Redwood forests to the north of the Bay Area. They live by one simple rule, “Apes don’t kill other Apes”. In contrast to their communal society, the surviving humans in San Francisco are struggling to come to terms with the reality they face. Rather than adapting and evolving to the new dawn, they are stockpiling weapons and are hell-bent on fixing a power source that lies in the heart of the Apes forest enclave. In other words, they cling to the hope that the capitalist society they knew, a society responsible for humanity’s demise, can be rebuilt.
War for the Planet of the Apes starts with the barbarism of the humans on full display. An elite soldier unit (Alpha Omega) has found the Apes hideout and is hoping to eliminate Caesar and his fellow apes once and for all. The elite soldiers are led by a demagogic colonel who is obsessed with exacting vengeance on the apes, despite their having nothing to do with the simian flu or the current war. The Alpha Omega soldiers are resisted by the Apes army, while four human soldiers are captured and ultimately let go by Caesar with a message for their rogue Colonel McCullough (played by Woody Harrelson). The message was clear and simple, “the apes did not start the war and they want peace between apes and humans”. Here again we see the “humanity” of intelligent apes compared with the vengeful barbarism of humans whom, despite their dwindling worldwide numbers, must conquer the apes and reclaim their “dominant” status on the planet.
Men and their ceaseless desire to manipulate and conquer all forms of nature is a consistent theme throughout the Planet of the Apes trilogy. The importance of leadership is also quite prominent, none more so than in the third film. At a certain point Caesar’s band is captured by the Alpha Omega soldiers and forced to work without food or water. Caesar steps up and tells the rogue colonel in no uncertain terms that if he wants the apes to work for him then he needs to feed them and quench their thirst. A request the desperate colonel grants as he needs the apes to build a wall to fend off an attack by U.S. Government forces, as it’s revealed (spoiler alert) the colonel and his Alpha Omega soldiers have gone rogue and are operating at the whims of the colonel who enjoys a cult status amongst his troops.
At issue is the colonel’s callous disregard for chain of command and his troops all in the pursuit of the alleged enemy of humanity. Here parallels can be drawn with the Bush Administration’s hawkish disregard for international law in going after those responsible for 9/11, and more recently the Trump Administration’s failure to even bother investigating whether or not Assad Sarin gassed his own people before launching missiles at a Syrian Air Force Base. Like Assad
and Hussein before him, the apes are similarly blamed to suit hawkish military purposes. Throughout the film we see the courageous leadership of Caesar set against the fascist-like demagoguery of the rogue McCullough. With these contrasting leadership styles its not hard to surmise which side wins out.
“Winning”, unfortunately, isn’t a very accurate description at the conclusion of the “war”. The apes suffer heavy casualties throughout the fighting but ultimately they persist. The humans, never able to come to grips with the new reality on the planet, still hold out the belief that there is something to be won despite the 90% loss of their species, and the remaining pockets pretending nature can still be conquered. This is the real tragedy portrayed throughout the trilogy.
The Planet of the Apes series is a work of science fiction, yet many of the themes resonate with the present reality of 2017. We still see a relatively small group of humans mistakenly believing in their race supremacy, we still face shadowy capitalist industries with the potential to destroy humanity, we still confront world leaders who believe that nature can and must be conquered, and we still have yet to accept our only chance for survival is through collective and peaceful coexistence.
Maybe, before its too late, some intelligent apes will come along and save humanity from
ourselves, until then the War for the Planet of the Apes much like the entire trilogy is worth a