Monkey status: Non-human primates are featured prominently in this film
The third instalment of the new Planet of the Apes reboot series, we even get a bit of monkey quotient going in this film. There are no climbing monkeys with tails, but this film is chock full of ape characters. Of all named characters in the film, only three are human. The rest are gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans. Perfect.
This film was born out of the 1963 novel by Pierre Boule, La Planète des Singes, which detailed the adventures of a group of astronauts who land on a foreign planet where the roles of man and monkey have been switched.
The films deals with this idea, too, with humans suggesting to be regressing back into earlier pre-civilisation versions of themselves and the great apes rising up and taking their place on the planet as the dominant species.
War for the Planet of the Apes kind of glosses over the fact that these apes are from pretty radically different species and have really different social structures and lives in the wild. Some of them would never even come into contact with each other, like Maurice the Orangutan whose ancestors all hail from South-East Asia, and Luca, a Western Lowland Gorilla, who is therefore of African origin. The apes don’t even seem to be aware of some of their aesthetic differences, and just group themselves as one new species – ape.
This suggests that they aren’t even aware of these special differences. Maybe they just think Red the Gorilla is really buff. But then what are they to make of the swollen facial flaps Maurice carries his face between – its normal for an orangutan, but if they are considering him genetically identical to him they must think that he is tragically deformed. Well, they are still nice to him so that’s good.
As can be expected, this film is full to the brim with monkey references. Of course there are little nods to the original 1968 The Planet of the Apes, such as Caesar’s son being named Cornelius. It’s hard to say if the 1968 Cornelius and the 2017 Cornelius are meant to be the same ape – Charlton Heston’s voyage is meant to take place way in the future, right? Presumably questions like this will be answered in the next film, Around the Planet of the Apes in 80 Days.
Another reference are in the ‘Nam style army helmets we see the human soldiers wearing in the very first shot of the film as they stalk the apes through the Northern California woods. Like Full Metal Jacket, this movie features a lot of monkeys. Oh, no, wait, like Full Metal Jacket, the helmets are emblazoned with cute little messages like ‘Monkey Killer’ and ‘Bedtime for Bonzo’ – the latter being a film that starred a little-known actor named Roger Reagan starring alongside a chimpanzee.
The apes are also referred to as kongs by the soldiers. This is both another Vietnam War reference and a call-back to our King of all movie monkeys – King Kong.
Special mention must be made to Steve Zahn in his role as Bad Ape, who shows up out of nowhere wearing a hoodie to be comic relief. Even a total monkey movie is best served with a side of monkey comic relief. And one point he holds binoculars up to his face the wrong way round and his reaction is hilarious.
So for the discerning ape connoisseur, this film is perfect. What other blockbuster film features apes in lead roles on screen for most of its run-time? OK, maybe Space Chimps. But we’ll get to that one soon.