Planet of the Apes: Lesson in Character Development – War

War for the Planet of the Apes is the third and final film in the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy, released in 2017. After Koba forced apes into a war with humans, Caesar is forced to lead his tribe against a fight he didn’t start, because he has to protect his kind, and no one else is qualified to do it.


In this film, Koba’s actions haunt everyone even after his death. After Caesar’s family is killed by the Colonel leading a surviving society of humans, Caesar lets his emotions get the best of him when he abandons his tribe to go on a manhunt for revenge. Throughout the film, we start to see Caesar adopt some of Koba’s toxic traits, and this, in turn, puts his tribe in danger.

The magnetic presence and influence Caesar has over his apes play a tremendous role in the overwhelming amount of trust his people have for him.

Caesar in this movie could even be a reflection of Moses from The Bible. This film has many religious commentary inside of its content, and even more so a message of anti-violence. In this spectacular finale, we see Caesar learn exactly how much he means to his fellow apes, and how far they will go to serve him.

Caesar vs Koba

Koba’s actions in Dawn still haunt the apes that remain, especially Caesar. When Caesar talks about this with Maurice, Maurice says that no one could have known how much hatred and darkness that had infected his heart. Of course, yes, that is true, but technically it was Caesar’s fault that this war even happened. Caesar looked down upon humans and thought that they only capable of destruction. If Caesar had learned to treat humans with the same amount of respect as apes, he might have seen the foreseeable future.

However, as Maurice stated, no one had a clue how much hate was living inside of Koba. This version of Caesar is arguably the best in the trilogy because he’s the most relatable. We have all met someone who we trusted, only to be back-stabbed by that person. In my own experience, at one point in my life, I was so captivated by someone that I wasn’t understanding or able to predict that they were just using me for themselves.

Although in Caesar’s case his circumstances are slightly different, the situation is the same. We have all been in a situation where we couldn’t see what someone’s true motives are. I can also think of any number of times where I wallowed over one of my mistakes, thinking hindsight can fix the past. Sometimes it’s hard to let go, even when the universe is screaming at us that it’s in our best interest.


One of the characters in the film, Winter, is part of Caesar’s main crew until he betrays him. At the beginning of the film, we learn that Rocket and Blue Eyes have found a desert a lengthy distance from the woods and that the apes could travel there to escape further battle from hostile humans. Unfortunately, before they made it to the tribe, their base was attacked by a human military.

Some of the kin working with this band of humans are apes who were previously followers of Koba. They serve as “donkeys” for humans in fear of what Caesar will do to them. One of these donkeys named Red, informs Winter that the colonel will spare his life if he leaves Caesar’s side and informs him of the location of Caesar’s base. Winter, being a fearful creature, gives in and becomes a donkey for the humans.

Unfortunately, this leads Colonel McCullough (the leader of this opposing tribe of humans) to lead a stealth mission to infiltrate the base and kill Caesar. Not everything went as planned however, and Caesar’s wife and son were brutally killed.

Letting Go

This begins the start of Caesar’s character arc, as he is naturally incredibly angry for what had happened to him, and runs off alone to find and kill McCullough in a solo vendetta ride. The problem with this is that he’s leaving his apes behind without a leader. Caesar is a leader and lets his vengeance take priority over leading his people. Not to mention, the only member of his family that survived the attack was his newest son, Cornelius.

Caesar says that by leaving he is giving his people a chance to escape because when he finds the Colonel his forces will look for him. Although this may hold some truth, the fact of the matter is the Colonel would probably expect a prideful ape as Caesar to stick with his men. Colonel McCullough at some points tries to get Caesar to calm down, saying that what he had done was performed solely as an act of war. and that Caesar is taking it much too personally. Regardless of what you might think of McCullough, he’s right.

However, to let this go, and not take it personally, Caesar would have to forgive the Colonel. After all, Caesar wasn’t the one who instigated this war, as he is only invested in it to protect apes. To to properly move on from this traumatic event, would be to live with the fact that Caesar would have to resist his urges for vengeance.

I know not all of us have had family brutally murdered, but I’m sure we can all relate to the fear of forgiveness. Using the same situation I mentioned earlier, it was really hard to forgive this person and live on knowing that this person would live on without anything happening to them, that they would continue to have friends and live a happy life after doing something so terrible to me.

Using Winter as an example, when Caesar left on his suicide mission, Maurice, Rocket, and Luca joined him to make sure he comes back. They come across a human military camp, and surprise surprise, Winter is there. When Caesar’s crew confronts him, humans outside notice the racket, and Caesar promptly puts him in a headlock. Unfortunately in his rage, Caesar accidentally kills him.

Winter is an albino gorilla, which is incredibly rare in the wild. This extraordinary, beautiful creature was killed because he made a mistake driven from the fear for his life. Surely Caesar would have been able to forgive Winter given the circumstances. Winter truly thought that humans were going to discover the hideout, thinking that he would be in the death count. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Caesar to put his anger aside and forgive Winter. He probably could have even changed his mind and motivate him to join the crew, or at the very least meet back up with the other apes.

Caesar killed an albino gorilla, all because he couldn’t forgive and set his emotions aside. After this happens, Caesar has a dream where he sees an apparition of Koba. Koba says to him “ape not kill ape”. Which haunts Caesar like a revenant out of fear of becoming what Koba represented. In some situations, fear of our past mistakes make us repeat them at a higher volume. When Koba mocks Caesar for killing Winter, he is afraid of admitting his fault because he doesn’t want to be wrong.

In life, it is inevitable that there will be outcomes where the very people who have harmed us mock us or remind us of our shortcomings, and we retaliate because there’s no possible way we could be the very thing that harmed us. Unfortunately, this happens more than we’d like to happen to us. It’s scary to think that we have committed the same mistakes as someone whom we despise out of the things they have done to us. We don’t want to be associated with people like that, so instead of admitting our faults, we retaliate in anger thinking it will prove a point, but usually only prove to the accuser of what we’ve become.

However, the truth is, no matter who we are, we all make mistakes. There’s no fault in admitting of making a mistake either. It’s okay to be vulnerable instead of being defensive because you aren’t going to solve anything unless you forgive.

Simian Flu

One of the main plot-points in this movie is the mutation of the Simian Flu. It’s explained later by the Colonel that the disease that every remaining human still carries, had suddenly changed, rather, mutated into something far more dangerous.

Nova had been a victim of this mutation. What the mutation does, is rob those affected of their higher thinking abilities. They still have the intelligence required to problem solve, but what made them human had been taken away, and had been turned into primitives.

On the trip to find the Colonel, Caesar’s crew encounters Nova when they find her in a small hut filled with trash. The man who was taking care of her had been neglectful of her health. Maurice interacts with her and persuades Caesar to bring her along after they discover she cannot speak.

We later find out that people who had stopped speaking were green-lighted to be killed. The Colonel, informs Caesar in a monologue that anyone who stops speaking carries the mutation, and that the only way to rid of the mutation is to kill them.


Nova represents vulnerability. Never in the film does she ever show aggression, or even anger. She remains a pretty inactive character for the majority of the film, that is until Luca dies.

After finding an ape that can take them to a weapons depot where the Colonel may reside, the crew gets ambushed on their way there and Luca is stabbed in the chest. The only reason why Luca was killed was because of Caesar’s own selfish desire to go after the Colonel as opposed to protecting his apes.

Luca is the same type of gorilla as Buck from Rise. In that film, Buck’s death represented Caesar’s evolution into an independent character. Caesar no longer had Will to take care of him, and he no longer had Buck to protect his authority. Instead, he developed to rely on his charisma and leadership skills from thereon out. Of course, Caesar has moved past that, and had become a powerful leader using the skills he learned when he was confronted with challenge. Unfortunately however, Caesar has lost the understanding of what’s important. Instead of setting aside his emotions and allowing himself to be vulnerable, he decided to go after the Colonel in a quest for vengeance.

Vulnerability doesn’t make you weak. In a scene before Luca’s death, he plucked a flower from a blossoming tree and set it atop Nova’s ear as a hair-bow. Just before Luca takes his last breath, Nova gives the flower back to Luca as she cries over the dying ape. In his own words, the Colonel started killing people infected with the mutating Simian Flu because he was afraid of becoming no more intelligent than cattle.

In other words, Colonel McCullough started killing his men out of fear of becoming weak. However, as we’ve discussed, vulnerability doesn’t make you weak. Sure, Nova ability to speak was taken from her, but she was able to learn sign language like anyone else. If you can put aside your anger and allow yourself to grieve, to cry, to allow yourself to feel awkward in front of others, you stop pushing people away and allow yourself to be showered with the love you need.

The Prison

Even after Luca’s death, when the dangers of power and control are staring into Caesar’s rage-induced eyes, he still proceeds to press on. When Maurice resents Caesar, he tells him that he is starting to sound like Koba. Caesar responds with rage and decides to go after the Colonel alone. This inevitably leads him to find out that without his leadership, his apes have found themselves captured in a labor camp in terrible living conditions. If this wasn’t terrible enough, Caesar’s tunnel vision lead him to be captured by Red and brought to the Colonel in handcuffs.

Even when McCullough asks him if he’s come to save his apes, Caesar replies with “I came for you”. Caesar doesn’t fully understand the gravity of his mistakes until he sees his only son behind bars, forced to work like everyone else.


Maurice, as he’s always been, is a comforting soul who serves as Caesar’s rock. That is especially prevalent in this film, as Maurice is the one who serves as Nova’s protector and guardian. If not for Maurice, Nova likely would not have come along or probably not have survived with the crew, and Caesar would not have learned his most valuable lesson.

After Luca’s death Maurice tries to reason with Caesar. In summary, he says that Luca is the first of what will be an onslaught if Caesar continues down the same path. Thanks to Caesar’s actions, his selfish quest to kill the Colonel will only lead to the death of more apes. When Caesar goes off on his own, Maurice chooses to stow his hand, as sometimes the only way for someone to learn of his shortcomings is for them to occur as a consequence of said shortcomings. After all, people only learn that they’ve done something wrong when something unpleasant happens as a result from their lackluster decisions.

I have had experiences where people have tried to convince me as hard as they can of the path I was walking through, and how dangerous it was to my health. I only learned what I was doing when I found myself at the deep end when I went too far. Only when I finally caved in to self reflect did I realize what I’ve become. The best way for someone to improve from their mistakes, is to have them experience an event that is a consequence of their poor decision making.

So, it’s no surprise that when Caesar is captured and realizes what he’s done, there are a handful of orangutans sprinkled in with all of the other apes.

In a powerful scene, Caesar is forced to work with the other apes on a wall that will defend the base from an attack from a rivaling tribe of humans. After one of the orangutans makes a mistake, he is doomed to be brutally whipped by none other than Red. Caesar screams “LEAVE HIM!”.

Following this scene, all of the apes start shouting and chanting in protest. It’s at this point that Caesar is starting to understand how important he is to his apes, as just two words of confidence from him can motivate his apes from a state of having no hope, to setting everything aside to follow in his footsteps, trusting every move he makes.

When the Colonel threatens to kill Caesar if the apes don’t go back to work, Caesar doesn’t have to say anything. His fellow apes start to work on their own volition. In any other circumstance, if any other ape was the leader of the pack, he would probably be killed to send a message without hesitation. That just shows how much Caesar means to his family. They will do anything he asks, because after seeing the kind of person he has evolved into, they know he’s the best candidate for their leader.

The loyalty of his followers only increases when Caesar is strung up on a log, similar to Crucifixion, as punishment. This is why we never see Maurice fight anyone in the entire film. Even when he is shot by Koba in Dawn, he still never shows resentment towards him. This is why vulnerability and anti-violence is so much stronger than Koba’s philosophy. When you allow yourself to forgive your enemies and allow yourself to be humiliated in front of your followers, that only makes you and your followers stronger.

If you respond with violence, you are no better than your oppressors, and you don’t solve anything, as it is effective as punching a brick wall. If Caesar decided to fight back in any of these circumstances, he would have been beaten and likely killed. Caesar’s people need a leader, so it is paramount that he allows himself to be humiliated and tortured so his people can have someone to rely on, something to hope for. If Caesar were to be killed, his people likely would have lost hope and given up. Not to mention, fighting your captors when you have no chance of succeeding only demonstrates your foolishness as you put yourself in more pain than is necessary.


Perhaps Caesar’s defining moment in this film is when Nova leaves the protection of Maurice on her own volition to retrieve food and water for Caesar so he can survive the night. Caesar is sitting in his private cell, curled up in the fetal position suffering from starvation and dehydration. Nova brings the bucket of water up to his mouth and smooths her fingers through his hair to comfort him.

When she brings him some grain from the other apes, all of the apes from the other cell stand up holding their hands together, signifying the phrase “Apes, Together, Strong”. Nova turns back to Caesar and makes the same gesture. It’s an incredibly powerful and emotional scene that shows the strength of Caesar’s leadership and shows him how much his followers love him. It shows that Caesar doesn’t have to go through the death of his family alone, as his followers aren’t just along for the ride. It also shows that by being vulnerable and allowing himself to be tortured and humiliated all to guarantee the safety of his kind, he is the strongest leader anyone could ever ask or hope for.

To further represent this point, to allow Nova to escape back into Maurice’s arms, Rocket makes a racket and shows himself out in the open. He is then promptly beaten half to death, and thrown into the cell with the other apes. When he stands up, he looks at Caesar, smiles, and asks him if he’s feeling better, followed by notions of escape. Rocket, who was once the leader of the small tribe from the animal sanctuary, has come to put his life on the line and blow his cover, all for the protection of Nova and Caesar. After he is beaten severely and disgraced in front of everyone he loves, his only priorities are to make sure his leader is okay.


This film in particular out of the three that I have discussed took me through a wild ride. It still stands to be one of my favorite films, as it is the biggest climax of a series to end all climaxes. It wraps up Caesar’s character arc so perfectly that I feel like we never deserved this amazing of a film. As for Caesar himself, his character evolves so amazingly throughout his journey. Even in War, you can still faintly see the birthmark that made him into who he was from the beginning. To transfer Dawn to War, the team decided to use Koba’s philosophy as a great reflection of Caesar’s wrongdoings and allows the audience to use it as an anchor to ponder of the abstract ideas presented in Caesar’s character flaws. To wrap up, I would go as far as to say that these three films should be films everyone should watch before they die. These films hold a very special place in my heart and taught me things I never expected them to.


Noah Veremis

Published by Noah Veremis

I love movies.

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