Every movie trailer strives to leave you with an image that you won’t forget. Many try and most will fail. But while we audiences had seen these realistically animated apes before only 3 years prior, we had not seen a great many things the trailer provided: namely, apes riding horses, and sometimes even while carrying a machine gun. The message became clear: this is going to be one holy action film.
But the ironic thing is that for all the movement the trailers promised, the most moving thing about this film is its stillness.
We have seen and heard about enough wars to know that they are largely moments of stillness punctuated by brief, shocking violence. There is a lot of waiting around. Conversations take on new meaning as time passes. The center may not hold, and it may fall apart, but it always falls apart from within, from the stillness.
There are some great action scenes in this film, including a POV shot of an ape atop a tank that can tell you more about the horror and changes of war than any carefully choreographed invasion, but they all have weight due to the many moments of stillness.
In these quiet moments, trust is formed and later begins to crack, giving way to crevasses too deep to cross. We are given enough time to see just how similar the characters, and we, the audience, by extension, are. We see how possible the path to peace is. But we also see how easily the tables can be turned, flipped from underneath, and serving a meal just different enough to make us uncomfortable.
It is no mistake, by some clever joke of the movie gods, that the apes look their best when they are still. The hair, wild and unkempt, the skin deeply impressed and scarred, and most importantly, the eyes, starting back at us and pulling out something approaching empathy. All of Weta’s digital wizardry and the actor’s incredible performances coalesce into a perfection unmistakably real, both in it’s physical and emotional presence.
This is an undeniably entertaining and brave movie, willing to spend its opening minutes with nothing but subtitled sign language, willing to give us time to sympathize with the apes and yet pull just enough from the human actors to make the conflict feel less like war and more like a tug-of-war with two redeemable sides. This movie is a canvas potent enough to splash any conflict over it, and yet it will always feel true because the emotions are as real as anything the movie has to offer.
Yes, there are moving images that you have never seen before. Yes, you will see monkeys do things that are funny right until the moment it’s not funny anymore. You will see horses and guns and violence and everything you expect out of a summer blockbuster. But what will move you the most is the stillness, the moments where you see how good things can be and how easily they can go so horribly wrong.