Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes is the third film in the Apes reboot that started with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  The story picks up two years after Dawn with Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his fellow apes entangled in a war with a group of human soldiers lead by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). After an attack on the apes den, Caesar and a small group of apes go looking for The Colonel’s whereabouts while the other apes relocate to a new home.

Meanwhile, the Simian Flu virus that wiped out most of humanity has mutated and it is now altering the infected human’s behavior and turning them into mutes.

Along their journey, Caesar and his group meet a young infected girl named Nova (Amiah Miller), and zoo ape named Bad Ape (Steve Zahn).

War is easily the most emotional film in the trilogy. It’s surprising since its the first of the three to change course and focus more on the apes, rather than human. Rise put a spotlight on Will (James Franco) and his relationship with Caesar. Dawn developed Caesar’s story more but had a plot that leaned on Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) as the main characters. War is 100% Caesar’s story. Woody Harrelson gives a brilliant performance as The Colonel and serves as a worthy adversary for Caesar, that’s about as far as his character goes – every human character serves in supporting roles.

Watching a bunch of CGI apes talk and run around sounds silly on paper, but there are numerous touching scenes involving apes. It’s incredible how much emotion they’re able to convey. The story arc is fiction, but like 1968’s Planet of the Apes there is plenty of political imagery and symbolism sprinkled throughout the film.

The undisputed star of the film is Andy Serkis who delivers some great dialogue and of the year’s best moments involving Caesar and a fellow ape that’s working with The Colonel – in a perfect world, that would be the clip shown at the Oscars as Serkis is announced as a nominee for Best Actor. Andy Serkis’ Academy Award is long overdue. It’s never been more evident than watching his incredible performance. It’s easy to see Serkis as a guy that “just does CGI work”, but he’s acting. He’s doing some very real acting. Andy Serkis gives one of the best performances. He will make you laugh, make you angry, and bring you to tears. Hopefully the Academy will recognize all of his accomplishments, especially for what he’s done as Caesar.

There is ‘war’ in the title; however the movie plays more like a slavery/holocaust film with some action and sci-fi elements in it. It has the look of a summer movie and the tone of an Oscar nominated film.  War is the most haunting of the trilogy. The plot and the accompanying script convey a much heavier message this time. It’s less “fun” than the other two, but equally as engaging as it is entertaining – it’s easy to forget you’re watching CGI apes and not a serious Steven Spielberg drama.

Speaking of directors, Matt Reeves does an exceptional job. He took a simple story and made it compelling without over-stuffing the plot with characters or unnecessary storylines. The action sequences feel like a big blockbuster, yet he takes his time to shoots the more serious moments with the deliberate and patience of a school teacher.

War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the best films of the year and the perfect punctuation to an amazing series. Form the social commentary to its outright fun moments, War delivers in every way imaginable and more. Hollywood gets a bad rap for continuing to recycle ideas – the Apes franchise is how you do it.

Grade: A