The Humanity of Apes: Why Planet of the Apes is the Perfect Film Franchise

Perhaps it is my background as an anthropologist. Perhaps it is my love of moving stories of people overcoming violence to create a more tolerant and beautiful world. Perhaps it is my desire to see a world where we embrace, as Frans de Waal calls it, “Our Inner Ape.” Perhaps I just really like Andy Serkis and honestly believe that he deserves more critical attention than he receives for his form of acting.

Perhaps it’s a little of all of those.

What is true, regardless of the total reasoning behind it, is that the Planet of the Apes, both the original series for their cheese and nostalgia and the current Matt Reeves series, are my favorite film franchise and, in my opinion, one of the best film series ever.

The originals are, understandably, often disregarded, especially once moving to the third in the series. While the original held a very serious and intense look at mankind and what we could do to the planet with nuclear weapons (a warning we should perhaps heed in the current political climate), the remainder of the series does suffer from some odd storytelling devices and overall silliness that only films in the 70s could provide.

In spite of this, however, they still tell a sweeping story of the connections that we can develop, connections between even apes. The story of the fourth film, where we see the development of Caesar as a leader amongst apes, brought up by a “good man” in the form of Ricardo Montalban, still brings tears to my eyes.

The surety with which Caesar points out his name after being captured and hearing an ape scream “No!” for the first time, these moments of incredible acting and emotional build-up more than make up for the flaws elsewhere in the series (particularly three; I mean what was happening there, an ape sitcom?).

For the series directed by Matt Reeves (who might possibly be the savior of The Batman), this emotional connection to a group of apes is only heightened, especially with the brilliant acting and motion capture of Andy Serkis.

While the first one was a great introduction to the reimagined world of Apes, and with one of the best supporting actor roles to be overlooked at the Oscars in the form of John Lithgow’s performance as the Alzheimer’s ladened Charles Rodman, it was in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that Reeves cemented his series in the cinema firmament.

The performance of Toby Kebbell as Koba comes close to rivaling Serkis’ Caesar. The development of real emotional connections and family drama with hardly any dialogue is astounding. And a villain (both the human and ape) that made decisions for what they thought were the best reasons. Viewers may have thought they were getting an action movie with apes fighting humans; what they got was a drama about the humanity in us all.

War for the Planet of the Apes (regardless of what our reviewer might have said) was the perfect conclusion to that series. Each time Reeves has presented a film via trailers that draws in an audience for an action conflict of apes and man, only to present something so much more. 

War saw the fulfillment of a world that Caesar and his father had dreamed about in Rise, a world where apes could simply be, and a human could live amongst them in peace. There is always action and a villain (Woody Harrelson portrays a particularly chilling and unhinged colonel), but that action is only a minor aside, what truly matters are the character developments and the stories being told.

Reeves has mastered the genre film as it was meant to be. Science fiction has always been a vehicle for a deeper reflection of humanity. And what a better way to address the issues of our world than through a film about apes? The performances and story will captivate you, only to leave you walking away with a fresh perspective on the world around you. 

This series is everything a trilogy should be: a great story, impeccable performances, stunning cinematography, and a score that can draw you to tears. It also tells an important message for the ages, and one that we need now more than ever. Maybe we need to look a little more closely at the things we think divide us. Maybe we aren’t really that different at all. 

You can now get War for the Planet of the Apes on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital