Underlying the series of “Planet of the Apes” films — which began back in 1968 with Charlton Heston as a nihilistic macho astronaut thrust thousands of years into a future where simians have become the dominant species on Earth — has been the uncomfortable sense the films and TV series accumulated since then have been less than allegories for a variety of sociopolitical issues at hand and more an opportunity to advance a not-so-subtle racist agenda.
Some might say this is much ado about nothing because films like this are, after all, science fiction, a genre proudly rooted in twisting themes and meanings into revisionist corkscrews. But, here, in 2017, the audience is more like veterans of psychic wars (to mangle a phrase from Blue Öyster Cult), beaten into submission by a popular culture that advances a fantasy about how easy it is to attain sheltered prosperity, while in the real-life streets is a day-to-day struggle from paycheck to paycheck, where oppression for people of color — even in 2017 — has actually become worse in some places.
So, it’s not too hard to imagine studio suits figuring a way to tap this angst is by reviving the POTA series to show how the innocently oppressed can turn the tables on the foolish worshipers of science and technology.
To recap, if you haven’t seen the previous two movies, apes were used in experiments to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and in so doing a genetic anomaly was created that resulted in the first glimpses of intelligence. At the end of the first movie, these super-apes escaped to the wilds of Northern California just as a mysterious ape-related virus was taking hold among humans. In the second film, humans have been nearly wiped out by the virus, leaving survivors to hole up in a military camp where apes are thriving in the forest, but in the end, the ugly head in the shape of military remnants hoping to retake America rears up, leading to this film in which The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) has vowed “the only good ape is a dead ape.”
The protagonist here is the leader of the ape resistance, Caesar (Andy Serkis), who simply wants nothing but peace and security for his tribe and family. But, The Colonel will have none of that and in a horrifying act of vengeance, forces Caesar’s hand and now de facto war has been declared between species.
The apes are clearly the heroes of this piece and humans the villains. But, here in the script by director Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”) and writer Mark Bomback built on characters created by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver from Pierre Boulle’s original novel, the concept of humanity is the main thing that has been twisted. Caesar and his tribe exercise sympathy and compassion, while the evil military men exist to kill and destroy. The stage is set, yet director Reeves allows for long periods in which we’re expected to learn how nice the apes are — which inadvertently offers a glaring look at the racial subtext, how certain behaviors and decisions are meant to be touchstones for certain biases, especially with regard to certain comedic moments.
This trilogy of films, at their best, showcases the brilliant work of Serkis and his finely honed ability to integrate his talents with sophisticated motion-capture technology. But, if you leave the theater wondering what that nagging discomfort might be, look at it closer. You might be surprised by what you find.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements and some disturbing images.
It is showing daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañon Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4145 or visit storyteller7.com.
Also showing in Taos
The following were compiled from press materials.
Norman: The Moderate Rise and Fall of a New York Fixer
MPAA rating: R for some language
Movies at the TCA
Norman (Richard Gere), a New York fixer, knows the right people and can get things done. When an Israeli dignitary named Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) comes to the city, Norman decides to impress the man by buying him some very expensive shoes.
It works and he establishes a strong connection to the man, but a few years later, when Eshel becomes the prime minister of Israel, Norman can’t communicate with him anymore, and this threatens to destroy his reputation.
“Ever wanted to see super-smoothie Richard Gere take on the kind of part Woody Allen would have nailed in his ‘80s pomp? Gere’s needy, desperate performance isn’t the only way Allen hangs over this: it’s a morality play that could be a folk tale, and is only a few one-liners away from something Manhattan’s favourite clarinettist would have turned in after ‘Crimes And Misdemeanors,’” writes Andrew Lowry in Empire Online.
Written and directed by Joseph Cedar, the film co-stars Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi and Harris Yulin.
This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (July 23) and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (July 24-26).
Movies at the TCA film series, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language
Mitchell Storyteller 7
Jonathan Shannon (Ryan Phillippe) gives his 17-year-old daughter, Clare (Joey King), an old music box that promises to grant its owner seven wishes. Skeptical at first, Clare becomes seduced by its dark powers when her life starts to radically improve with each wish. Everything seems perfect until she realizes that every wish she makes causes the people who are closest to her to die in violent and elaborate ways.
Directed by John R. Leonetti, the film co-stars Elisabeth Röhm, Sherilyn Fenn and Ki Hong Lee.
This film will be screened daily.
Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.