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As the first trailer for War For The Planet Of The Apes puts it, “All of human history has led to this moment.” More importantly, the trailer suggests that all of the rebooted franchise to date — both Rise of The Planet of The Apes and Dawn of The Planet of The Apes — has led to this movie, offering War the chance to do what so few franchises have the chance to these days: end.
There is something pleasingly climactic about the War trailer. Mostly, it comes from the melodramatic narration from The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), which doesn’t just declare that the movie is the result of all of human history, but also that — should his forces lose the war, “it will be … a planet of apes.” Everything seems to be suggesting that this movie will feature the last stand of humanity, and the end of what is beginning to look like a prequel trilogy started with 2011’s Rise.
If so, it’s a smart move. After all, the meat of the Planet of the Apes franchise isn’t really the struggle between humanity and apes on equal footing; it’s what happens once the apes have taken over and, occasionally, what that means for the remaining humans around them. The fact that, by the time of War, the franchise will be three movies into its reboot cycle and still not have actually reached that point feels like a sign that it’s time to shift focus and bring what is, essentially, the beginning of the story to a close.
In doing so, War gets to give its audience a conclusion, which has become an increasingly rare happenstance in a marketplace of “shared universes” where mid- and post-credit sequences interrupt movies to remind audiences that there’s more to come in a few months. Indeed, should War embrace the apocalyptic ending it’s teasing for the human race — and, in doing so, restrain itself and not include an epilogue giddily hinting at a human uprising due to begin in the next movie — then it will manage to have its cake and eat it too: closing one chapter of the series while leaving far more open for future exploration.
In fact, if War offered a decisive climax to the plot threads of the rebooted franchise as it currently stands — which is to say, a decisive victory over humanity — then it arguably positions the franchise for a stronger future than it’s enjoyed for some time.
By demonstrating a willingness to play ideas out to their conclusion — and, presumably, sticking the landing — the Planet of the Apes franchise could be freed up to go in any number of directions (a time jump to decades hence, with an aged Caesar ruling over an evolved ape society akin to the one from the original movie; a shorter leap ahead, showing how that society was created; an even greater look ahead, past the time of Caesar altogether) and reinvent itself as needs be — or even fragment to tell multiple such stories in a number of series simultaneously, akin to the shared universe concept so beloved in Hollywood right now.
All of this assumes, of course, that War is headed towards an ending as dramatic as the trailer promises. But even if it doesn’t, that too will provide some form of closure to the franchise — albeit that which comes from knowing that the series has stalled, and should perhaps be put out to pasture for a few years until someone can come along with a new idea of where to go next.
A prequel trilogy, after all, has some structure and weight to it. But anything more than that begins to feel as if those involved are afraid of the future. All of Planet of the Apes history has led to this moment; we can but hope that War knows when it’s time for the conflict to end.
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