Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson). After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both of their species and the future of the planet.
After both Rise and Dawn surprised moviegoers with its intelligent action, War had the opportunity to put the Apes trilogy into the discussion of best trilogies ever made. All three of the films are unique and tell a different story which help to develop the arc of the main character, Caesar. Rise was a science fiction film that introduced us to this world. There we saw the evolution of apes. As the movie progresses we root for Caesar as well as the other apes who are having new drugs tested on them. The story escalates after they escape and cause mayhem on the Golden Gate Bridge. There we were introduced to the first big action set piece which further set up the franchise with the apes running wild into the forest.
This continues in Dawn when humans are on the brink of extinction and the apes live peacefully. They come across a group of healthy humans and under the guidance of Caesar let them go their separate ways. It isn’t until the rebellious Koba ignites a war that Caesar and his group must defend themselves from both the rogue apes and the attacking humans. In War we once again see Caesar and the gang in a similar scenario and we once again cheer for the apes instead of the despicable human radicals led by Woody Harrelson.
What directors Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeves were able to do with the three films was an achievement in storytelling. There is something fascinating about people investing their time and money into these films and rooting for the apes instead of the humans. Yes there are a lot of humans throughout the franchise that are seen as antagonists but being able to sit in a theater and watch a group of apes for a couple hours is compelling. Often Caesar and the other monkeys are more relatable than the humans, though the exception could be made for some previous human characters. We sympathize for them while they struggle to survive and cheer when they succeed. It is by no means an easy feat to get moviegoers to invest and appreciate characters that are computer generated.
Established in Dawn, Reeves is able to show scale and scope throughout War with wide shots of the vast lands which play host to pivotal scenes. Ape-ocalypse Now seems to be a popular joke going around and its suitable. The first 10 minutes of the film are tense and play like a classic war film with tug-of-war battles in the trenches and visceral shots of destruction. Though ‘War’ is in the title there is a large gap in between the big set pieces. Throughout the film we are led to believe that the apes and humans are on the brink of war. When the highly anticipated war breaks out it is over relatively quick with the Apes playing a minimal role.
The first two acts of the film are bleak and riveting narratively speaking. It begins to backpedal in its final act as viewers grow impatient, waiting for the war they’ve been promised. It takes too long to put the right pieces in place and settles for a half baked, underwhelming finale. Some will applaud War for the Planet of Apes for sticking to its intelligent roots while others will leave the theater searching for the film they saw in marketing.
Often in the film we are given close-up shots of the characters as they converse, you can’t help but adore the progress that has been made from Rise to now. The effects of the apes are astonishing as they have every facial feature possible. Reeves is well aware of the talent he is working with in the visual effects department and he showcases it front and center for a large portion of the movie.
Andy Serkis once again delivers an award caliber performance as the lead character Caesar. Thanks to the talent of Serkis we’ve been able to see the rise of Caesar, from his infant days to his current role as the leader of the apes. Throughout the film we feel his agony and urge to put an end to the fight. With yet another top tier performance, the motion capture debate will once again loom large come award season. Steve Zahn also gives a solid performance as Bad Ape, managing to add light humour to the dark and dour tone. For what he has to work with Woody Harrelson gives a menacing performance as the leader of a radical group who is trying to eliminate the apes. His character is more so an idea that represents a specific belief and less so a developed character with an arc.
War for the Planet of the Apes is the epic conclusion to an incredible trilogy thanks to the film upping the ante from the two previous installments. Despite being bogged down by a third act that will divide audiences, there is more than enough in War for it to solidify the Apes trilogy as one of the best.