Following on from Rise of (2011) and Dawn of (2014), Matt Reeves’s film completes what has been a brilliant and unexpectedly profound trilogy. End of days is approaching in the long conflict between man and ape. Taking refuge in the depths of the forest, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe have been hunted down by the US army. After a devastating loss, Caesar is torn between taking flight and leading his apes across the desert to a promised land, or seeking bloody revenge on the bald Colonel (Woody Harrelson) who has gone feral and is a law unto himself (Brando’s Kurtz is the gift that keeps giving in apocalyptic epics such as this).
Having acquired the language of his former keepers, Caesar has also learnt from them to put vengeance before other considerations – so he goes after the Colonel. Caesar is remarkably believable, not just for the creature’s faultless facial expressions, but also because he is a chimp struggling with the homo sapiens instincts that he absorbed in his captive youth. In pursuit of the Colonel, he and his band of close followers adopt an orphaned, pretty young girl (Amiah Miller) who has lost the power of speech as a result of the simian flu that has affected our species. Her name, Nova, is not exactly a subtle indicator of the future that lays in wait for her in the evolving world order, but the film is otherwise not lacking in nuance or keen observation of social mores and behaviour. Nor is it short on references to cinema classics (Spartacus, The Great Escape, even Cool Hand Luke among them). Again being written by Mark Bomback (and Reeves), it is a seamless successor to Dawn, with perfectly coherent and recognisable characters.
Visually, the action takes place in a dark, wintery landscape that accentuates the gravity of the drama and, augmented by Michael Giacchino’s intense, brooding score, the effect is gripping from start to finish. And the labour-camp scene in which Nova brings food to Caesar is an absolute heartbreaker.