Trilogies have a history of falling short in the last movie; even the Dark Knight trilogy’s third film didn’t measure up to its predecessors. But, it is safe to say that War for the Planet of the Apes is the crown of the rebooted franchise. Going into the trilogy with Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the films were decent and well done, but not compelling to me. But War is very worthy. Here’s why:
- Hands down, my favorite character in the trilogy is Nova. She is the young girl whom the apes adopt after orphaning her. Her name itself is full of meaning: not only does it allude to the Nova of the 1968 Planet of the Apes film, but it alludes to the Nova Eva, the “New Eve”, which is a title for the Blessed Virgin Mary as the New Eve whereas Christ is the New Adam. I suppose the name for the girl hints at her role as the new humanity, though with poignant irony (watch this video)…
- The girl carries the Simian Flu virus which has advanced ape brain and speech development while killing human hosts. In War, the very contagious virus has evolved to also debilitate speech and higher cognition in surviving human populations. This means the girl has become mute, and her beautiful rational mind has regressed to a primitive and lowly state. In other words, the Nova Eva is less human, the New Eve is a degenerated girl, the new humanity has become a sub-rational animal. This is even more tragic when Maurice (the ape who first and most advocates for her care) says to the girl when she asks if she is one of the apes: “You are Nova”… you are New. But we know that her newness actually means a regression of her full humanity (she is so degenerated that she even neglects her dead human father, not mourning or responding to her loss).
- Nova’s muteness struck me very deeply, since she wasn’t born mute but was rendered mute by the virus, since she became deprived of her speech and reason. Watching her try to speak, hearing her pathetic squeaks, and her dead voice unable to sound: this helped me see how precious is our gift of speech. As an English major with a small background in linguistics and one who loves to teach the Faith, how often have I taken my speech and thinking for granted. How many times have I misused and abused these gifts, speaking lies, evil, hurt, and hatred when I could have spoken truth, goodness, aid, and love? How often have I wasted my intellect on the superficial, the mediocre, and the stupid when I could have focused on the profound, the transcendent, and the wisdom of God?
- But that’s where Nova is unique among all the trilogy: she is the only significant “she” in the entire series. No other female characters have carried the story, and her character’s feminine genius shines where no male character could. Though compromised in her thought and speech, her heart and soul survives without the baggage of a fallen mind (a sinful mind). This allows her to have incredible courage driven by her love for her friends, especially for Caesar who we can see she is wary of because of his initial coldness toward adopting her. Her courage, her care, and her nurturing help Caesar survive, and even help bring down the Colonel who threatens ape and infected human alike.
- In the Colonel and Caesar, we see a number of Biblical allusions: from the Colonel saying he was willing to sacrifice his only son to save humanity, and his crucifixion of apes, and the crosses he wears and gestures, to Caesar playing a Moses role for the apes. However, the most prominent Biblical gestures involves the Colonel’s mad attempt to wipe out the virus and Caesar’s sinfulness:
- The Colonel, in trying to kill and cull all the infected humans, reminds us of the Great Flood as an attempt to show us that even if all evil people were drowned, our fallen nature would persist because we are all fallen. The only way to drown evil is for Christ to drown it within ourselves, to drown it in His precious blood and water, drowning it with true and sacrificial love. And this must be done for as long as we live. Killing and culling the innocent will never save anyone, because the murderers always lose themselves in the killing and culling. We see this play out for the Colonel who ultimately contracts the virus himself.
- And we see this in Caesar when he realizes that the ghost of Koba (the ape who turned on Caesar and plunged the ape and human worlds into relentless war) is in his own mind, and that he is like Koba, not above unforgiveness and evil. Because Caesar seeks vengeance against the Colonel, he exposes himself to further attack. becomes wounded, and ultimately is unable to enter the Promised Land with his tribe after a long desert journey (an Exodus) and the drowning of the enemy’s soldiers in a scene that mirrors the Red Sea. This echoes Moses’ prohibition from entering Canaan, as a penalty for his disobedience and arrogance.
- The film closes with us seeing that neither the human nor the ape world is perfect. Both are fallen creatures in a fallen world, but in the character of Nova, we see that we need not stay fallen. We can become new in the New Eve and the New Adam, and enter the New Promised Land: the New Heaven and New Earth.
- For another review with a Catholic mindset, please see Dcn. Greydanus’ take.
- And don’t forget this excellent insight showing the Biblical side of the film.