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War for the Planet of the Apes: A Mormon Movie Guy Review (Meridian Magazine)

This is indeed a war movie. But in truth, the war it depicts is not fought with spears and guns alone. It’s also a war of the heart. Namely, a war over how we should live and treat others. And it shows how all of us, when twisted by hate and fear and guilt, can become beasts.

By Jonathan Decker

Read the full review on Meridian Magazine.

Note: I review movies for artistry, content, and Gospel-compatible messages. My letter grades are for entertainment value and are not necessarily a moral endorsement of any given film. I assess content without judgment so families can decide what’s best for them. The scripture discussion guides are for those who wish to use these stories to share eternal principles.

After a human-engineered virus wipes out millions of people and makes apes super-intelligent, desperate soldiers rage war on peaceful primates who just want to be left alone. (You can pre-order the film and the trilogy box set now).

Making a compelling argument that what story one tells matters less than how one tells it, this modern Planet of the Apes trilogy rose above expectations of sci-fi camp to tell one of the smartest (and most hauntingly beautiful) cinematic tales of the decade. Director Matt Reeves (who also directed the previous film) creates here a bittersweet-yet-uplifting tale of compassion, courage, and humanity against a backdrop of horrible cruelty.

The story is fantastical, but the parallels with current issues such as the treatment of refugees and prisoners-of-war, allowing fear to rob us of decency, and protecting one’s family are evocative. The screenplay develops characters rich with motivation while offering some genuine surprises. Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar for his motion-capture performance, Woody Harrelson makes for a compelling antagonist, and Michael Giacchino’s score is one of the best I’ve heard in years. Prepare to be thrilled, heartbroken, and inspired.

War for the Planet of the Apes is rated PG-13. There is one use of “GD” and 3-4 mild profanities. A man is seen shirtless. There are no f-words, sexuality, or nudity. The rating is largely for violence and brutality relating to warfare, with humans and apes killed by bullets and arrows (with some blood) and harsh prisoner-of-war camp conditions including forced labor, whippings, starvation, and keeping children from their parents. Apes throw excrement at their captors.

Warfare is justified if one is protecting one’s family and freedom (see Alma 43:45). Show mercy to your enemies; use force only when there is no other option (see Alma 44:1–7). The greatest love is to be willing to die for those you love (see John 15:13). We are not to seek revenge; the Lord will deal out justice to offenders, although there are conditions in which retribution may be sought (see D&C 98:23–29). Slavery is condemned by God (see D&C 101:79–80).

Read the full review on Meridian Magazine. also has a great in-depth review of the film. Their summary of the film is below (but I recommend reading the full review):

The rebooted Planet of the Apes series continues to march forward inexorably into the past—now nearing the point where the whole story began back in 1968 when Charlton Heston arrived on the simian scene.

The special effects are far better these days, of course: Frankly, most Halloween costumes are more convincing than some of those in the later entries in the original Apes franchise (think 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes).

But in many respects, these modern Ape movies share a great deal of narrative DNA with their classic predecessors: apocalyptic pathos, a sly sense of humor (we see scrawled on some walls a reference to the “ape-pocalypse now”) and a desire to grapple with larger issues.

War, like its forerunners, asks some pretty important questions: What does it mean to be human? Is it possible to lose our humanity? We sympathize with the apes here because they look—in their ethos, if not their appearance—like us. They are, for the most part, the heroes we’re invited to root for. The Colonel, meanwhile, is the most inhuman character we meet.

But given the juxtaposition of the Colonel’s apparent religiosity and the multiple nods to Caesar’s almost divine calling to lead his people to freedom, it seems this film has even more on its mind. It’s tempting to see the story primarily as a criticism of a certain brand of militant Christianity. But might it also be asking whether we humans are squandering our divine inheritance? Questioning whether we always act as if we’re made in God’s own image?

The content, meanwhile, is of a piece with its recent forebears (foreapes?). It perhaps ratchets up the violence a bit, but offers plenty of moments of warmth and self-sacrifice too. We hear some bad language and bad behavior to be sure, but it’s a bit less than what most summertime blockbusters offer its viewers these days.

This is indeed a war movie. But in truth, the war it depicts is not fought with spears and guns alone. It’s also a war of the heart. Namely, a war over how we should live and treat others. And it shows how all of us, when twisted by hate and fear and guilt, can become beasts.



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