Back in the late ’60s/early ’70s, moviegoers got a new “Planet of the Apes” movie every year. They were seen as disposable crap for kids. Not anymore. “War for the Planet of the Apes” has a new trailer, and it looks heavy. It’s a respectable series now, grappling with unanswerable questions about the fog of war, about moral equivalency in battle — a far more serious affair than you’d expect from something that boasts monkeys throwing hand grenades.
The new trailer features plenty of brooding monkey mayhem, set to a joyless remix of Iggy & the Stooge’s “Search and Destroy.” The story appears to pick up not long long after 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” a pretty much humorless grinder in which human-ape relations baby-stepped from prickly to hostile. Things have gotten even worse. Human soldiers have “monkey killer” scratched on their helmets. Woody Harrelson, as the lone famous homo sapien star, wears a beret and threatens a chimp with a gun to its head. Simian honcho Caesar (a mo-capped Andy Serkis) bellows, “No mercy, no peace!”
At this point we’d like to point out that the original “Planet of the Apes” film cycle, which ran from 1968 to 1973, is pretty heavy, too, in its lowbrow way. The second one, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” ends with the destruction of Earth. The third one, “Escape” (which goofily jumps back to around the 1970s), dealt with race relations. Ditto the fourth, “Conquest,” which is one of the few Hollywood films to end with the beginnings of an actual, more or less wholly endorsed slave revolt.
“War” looks like it could slip right in between “Conquest” and the not very good OG final film, “Battle,” though it’s far from a disreputable piece of genre trash. It’s an A-movie, one of the biggest movies of the year, and it looks like it won’t take war lightly. Still, part of us wishes these rebooted “Apes” episodes were a little sillier, a little junkier. It would never, as “Conquest” does, offer a plum role to whoever could be today’s equivalent of Ricardo Montalban.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” hits theaters on July 14.