by Michele Manelis
It's an apocalyptic battle that will determine the dominant species - human or ape.
Following the success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), the third and final instalment of the man-versus-primate reboot sees beloved chimpanzee Caesar take on the human race in an all-out war.
Director Matt Reeves continues to move the story through Caesar's perspective, performed by Andy Serkis, who reprises his role as the iconic chimp
via motion-capture technology.
"It's a Ceasar-centric story, but the beauty of this story and the way that Matt works and how he wants to tell his tale is very richly complex. It's far from simple," says Serkis.
Apes is not merely another action blockbuster serving purely as entertainment; it also carries a subversive message. Reeves, who co-wrote the script, holds a mirror to our own society, bombarded as it is with horrific and tragic images on a daily basis.
Reeves says, "We're animals and we often forget that and how we fit into the planet. The whole idea of doing a war movie is to look into our nature and look at our capacity for destruction and creation, and see how those two things are in opposition. Of course, that has relevance today and has relevance to the history of humankind. That is the context in which it was written. It was intentional to reflect our struggles, our own failings, and also, hopefully, the path through that."
The parallels between our current political climate of escalating racism and xenophobia and Reeves' script are evident. "The danger of the world we live in, I think, is this inability for us to see each other as one. If you are moved by the story, you can understand that it's all about empathy."
Serkis concurs. "The more I see of what's going on in the world and when I think about Caesar's journey, we are on the brink of becoming a species that is unable to empathise with ongoing situations and events that are so bleak."
Woody Harrelson plays against type as the ruthless Colonel J. Wesley McCullough, "The Colonel", a wannabe dictator and the apes' nemesis, obsessed with eliminating Caesar and his tribe, enforcing humanity as the dominant species. Harrelson, who has endured a tussle or two with authority figures, channelled some of his real-life experiences. "The ones I had the hardest time with were some police in Ohio, a judge in Massachusetts, and lots of people from the jurisprudence system." (Harrelson was arrested in Ohio, in 1982, for disorderly conduct after he was found dancing in the middle of the street. He was also charged with resisting arrest after running from the police, but has avoided jail time by paying a fine). Straight-faced, he continues, "But the worst experience I had was with a teacher named Mrs Schmidt in my sixth grade year. She was brutal."
The storyline is constructed as a Western in many ways, with the apes representing the Indians. "The big mythic Western stories like The Outlaw Josey Wales, was an obvious reference for me," says Serkis.
Harrelson says. "I see it as a classic Western thematically, and you can feel that in the writing, which is inspired by (the novel) Heart of Darkness. Also, I don't think there are any coincidental themes that relate to what is going on in the world. I do think that we are living in apocalyptic times."
The evolution of the franchise also brought outside locations to the film versus the original movie, which was mainly shot on a soundstage. Serkis offers, "Matt always wanted to take it outside. In Dawn we saw that big ape community that was created, but this one is much more epic and massive in its scale. It's an incredible physical and geographical journey."
The film was shot in Vancouver and in the Kananaskis Range in the Canadian Rockies. Say Serkis, "The night shoots at 4am were really challenging. We were high up in the mountains and although we had lots of layers underneath, it's very cold, and it was quite tough. Your body temperature drops and you're struggling to keep warm."
The cast also includes Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Gabriel Chavarria, and Amiah Miller, who plays a human child who becomes the lynchpin between the apes and mankind. The franchise most definitely sits on the shoulders of Serkis' Ceasar, an ape Moses and mythical leader of biblical proportions. Says Reeves, "Andy Serkis' performance is what draws you in, and the three films are quite different in Caesar's trajectory. He's been through a very dramatic journey, from being a no-one and a revolutionary in Rise, a leader in difficult times in Dawn, ultimately becoming a seminal figure in ape history. In War we have made him an ape Moses so that apes in the future would look back and say, 'Without him we wouldn't be here'."
Who: Woody Harrelson and Andy Serkis
What: War for the Planet of the Apes
When: In cinemas next Thursday
DID YOU KNOW...
Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh once pitched to revive the Planet of the Apes franchise in the early 90s. They missed out and went on to film the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which also starred Andy Serkis.