War for the Planet of the Apes is the third film in the current series, which also featured Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014).
Following the events of the previous Apes film, Caesar and his tribe of apes have done their part to find a place where they can settle and live in peace. But the peace is shattered when military personnel that survived the pandemic that wiped out most of the human race come to attack the camp. Despite Caesar being merciful and wanting to avoid conflict, the attacks continue, resulting in great personal loss.
As Caesar’s tribe sets out for a new home, Caesar himself sets out on a journey to avenge what has been taken from him by striking back at the “Colonel,” the mysterious military leader responsible for the attacks. Alongside his longtime advisors, Caesar is joined by new allies, including a mysterious mute young girl, and an eccentric yet friendly ape they meet in their travels. When the militants threaten to take everything Caesar has fought for over the years, he must rise to the occasion, and be a leader to the apes once again.
Usually I dread reboots and remakes of films; all too often they are simply not necessary, and do more to tarnish the legacies of those classic movies than to improve them. The rebooted Planet of the Apes series that started back in 2011, however, is the rare series that breaks this trend, creating relevant and gripping storytelling. These movies combine the best in special effects and motion capture technology, yet this does not come at the expense of depth and emotion. War for the Planet of the Apes not only satisfies once again; it may very well be the best film of the three in this series so far.
It certainly helps to have seen the previous two films in this series before this one, but both this film and its predecessor utilized storytelling techniques that make any film a “jumping on” point; you can enjoy them even if you did not see the first movie in the series, as prologues give you an idea of what to expect. Still, if you have seen the prior films, the story that started back in 2011 comes full circle here. Many reviews and articles are referring to this as a “trilogy,” but after experiencing this film, I truly hope it is not the last we see of the superb rebooted series; the first film in the new franchise hinted at a potential fourth installment that could be a loose remake of the original 1968 film, and that is something this Apes fan would love to see.
The motion capture and special effects, including Andy Serkis in the role of Caesar, are as impressive as ever, giving the characters a lifelike appeal that would not have been possible in the time of the original films; I’m all for practical effects/makeup/etc. but do believe this series has made the smart move by going with CGI/mocap effects. The results on screen here and in the previous films have given these movies what they need.
We get compelling, three-dimensional ape heroes as well. Seeing Caesar’s journey come full circle and him evolve as a character has been a major highlight of the three-movie cycle. In this film Caesar must endure tragedy and torture alike, and due to the superb direction and screenwriting, these apes, ironically, feel more human than human protagonists of many recent films. Yet another reason this Apes reboot series is far from a mistake.
While the movie offers no human characters nearly as compelling as the first two films in the series (this is the apes’ movie after all), we get two in the form of the mute Nova, a young girl that befriends the apes in their travels, and the villainous Colonel, played by the always entertaining Woody Harrelson, who gets to do his best impersonation of Marlon Brando’s Apocalypse Now character. The latter makes for an entertaining yet compelling villain, with his own reasons for what he does. Above all, the movie manages to find ways to make us care about these characters.
The movie does suffer from some minor pacing issues, particularly in its midsection; about 20 minutes probably could have been trimmed from the final product, and we still would have gotten a movie just as compelling and cerebral.
Aside from an overlong run time, War for the Planet of the Apes features some damn good storytelling, and actions and explosions that do not come from sacrificing depth and emotion. The film is a damn good installment in the new Apes franchise, and this fan hopes it will not be the last. Strongly recommended.