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The Classic Movie Villain Woody Harrelson Avoided Copying In War For The Planet Of The Apes

Woody Harrelson in War for the Planet of the Apes

The shaved head. The menacing stare. The camp he lords over, in deep isolation. It's hard to look at Woody Harrelson's military leader character in Matt Reeves' upcoming War for the Planet of the Apes and not think of Marlon Brando's iconic antagonist Colonel Kurtz from Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. In truth, countless cinematic villains who have graced the screen since 1979 have drawn comparisons to Kurtz. The man cast that bold of a shadow over Hollywood's legacy. And yet, when we spoke with Woody Harrelson recently about Apes, he says he went in the opposite direction, because... well, because of Brando.

Well, I mean, definitely it's inspired by Kurtz, but I didn't... I wasn't trying to think of -- although, I was impacted when I first read that book, Heart of Darkness. But I wasn't really wanting to do anything like that. Because it's been memorialized by Brando, so I didn't want to try and do anything that was similar. Otherwise people would be like, 'Yeah, his imitation could have been better...' [Laughs] I thought this was great, though. I would probably rather be an ape. A lovable ape. But this is what they offered me, and I was very excited to be working with Matt.

Matt Reeves' War for the Planet of the Apes follows the narrative arc of simian leader Caesar (Andy Serkis), who started this journey as a young chimp with a human friend (James Franco) but has since come to distrust humans and the reactions that fellow apes have to civilization. The three Apes movies in this prequel trilogy have all had human counterparts who mirror Caesar's current conflicts, and in War, the main human antagonist is Woody Harrelson's Colonel. See him in action below:

Why does the Colonel distrust Caesar and his ape population? What are his plans to eventually prevent Caesar from ushering in the new age of ape domination? Well, I want to leave that for you to discover. And yet, despite what Woody Harrelson has to say, I'm going to recommend that you pop in Apocalypse Now before heading over to War, because the parallels in Matt Reeves' work are unmistakable.

War for the Planet of the Apes continues -- and in some ways "concludes" -- a story that was started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The sequel is getting incredible reviews, with our own Mike Reyes saying it is "not only one of the smartest movies of the year, it's possibly the best film of the summer." Find out for yourself when Apes opens in theaters this weekend.

Sean O'Connell
Sean O'Connell

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.