In War for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar and the apes are being hunted for extermination by the last survivors of mankind. They’ve taken refuge in the woods, offering the possibility of a peaceful coexistence. Yet despite Caesar’s best efforts at diplomacy, it is becoming increasingly clear that humans will never be satisfied until every last ape is dead. Tensions have escalated to the brink of war, and Caesar knows he has no choice but to finally fight back.
War for the Planet of the Apes is the final installment of the Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy. Director Matt Reeves returns for this closing chapter, with Andy Serkis once again starring as Caesar, the leader of the apes. New to the cast is Woody Harrelson as The Colonel, who is determined to save humanity by leading the crusade to purge all of the remaining apes from existence.
As far as the cast goes, Serkis and Harrelson are really the only major players, and surprisingly, neither of their performances blew me away. Serkis deserves all the credit in the world for the ways in which he’s transformed motion capture acting, but I found him to be less impressive here than in previous films. I think the reason for this is because Caesar has become more proficient at speaking, so he’s now able to use his voice more whereas before he communicated mostly through his expressions and movements. Though that’s not to say Serkis was bad, but I just feel as though his words carried less weight this time around, and his actions were more subdued. Harrelson, on the other hand, was decent but relatively forgettable. He just doesn’t seem to me like the right fit for his character, and this is all the more disappointing when you consider he’s the only significant human character in the film.
Almost all of the film’s characters are indeed primates this time around, so it’s a good thing the visuals are as impressive as they are. The special effects on display here are unbelievably good. At times you may find yourself wondering if they really trained some actual live gorillas and put them to work, but no, the CGI is so good they just look that real. I will be in complete disbelief if it doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The film also has some wonderful cinematography, especially in the earlier parts of the film.
The movie kicks off with a bang, setting off the inevitable war between man and primate. The first act of the film is utterly sensational, featuring a tense and heart-wrenching battle sequence that keeps you on your toes by playing against expectations. The stakes progressively get higher and more personal until retaliation becomes an unavoidable road for our protagonist. Yet in Caesar’s quest for revenge, the film begins to falter, leading to a second act that loses its momentum and drags on for what feels like forever. My interest and engagement sank into the depths of excruciating boredom. Caesar’s desperate struggle paralleled my own, as I fought hard just to stay awake. While the film does eventually recover somewhere in the middle of the third act, it can’t quite make up for all of the film’s dreary downtime.
Ultimately, I liked the film’s ending, however I feel the means to get there was pretty cheap, as it clearly took the easy road. I won’t spoil anything, but the conclusion is surely a bit silly and underwhelming if you think about it. The final scene, though, ends beautifully, and really makes me want to seek out and watch all of the original Planet of the Apes movies, even if just to get a better understanding of how they all tie together.
There’s a lot to like about War for the Planet of the Apes, but I do have issues with it. For instance, some of the big twists in the film were very obviously foreseeable beforehand, thus diminishing their effect. Steve Zahn’s chimpanzee character Bad Ape tries to fill this dark story with some humor, but overall I found him to be more annoying than amusing. War for the Planet of the Apes may be a very emotional film, but there’s never any strong emotional battle or payoff. If it’s a war you’re looking for, you won’t find it here. The scale is much too small for such a big word. There are just too few survivors on either side to justify the film’s title, but don’t take that as a reason not to see it. Just be aware that the battles are small, and few and far between.
The movie does explore a lot of deep and thought-provoking concepts, and for the most part, it’s a pretty fascinating film to watch. Without saying too much, there are a few clever ways in which the film creates a reversal of roles between apes and humans, highlighting that they aren’t so different after all. The movie is effective at evoking a lot of wartime ideas and images, from internment camps to slavery, and even treason. Additionally, it showcases the importance of unity and working together for the common good. The apes are truly on their own this time around, and they must rely on each other more than ever. Fortunately Caesar has some pretty awesome allies on his side. (I couldn’t complete this review without mentioning how much I love Maurice!)
While War for the Planet of the Apes might not be the epic that its predecessor was, it’s still a mostly successful cap on this trilogy. It’s filled with some great drama, it’s visually stunning, and it has a lot of strong thematic elements. Unfortunately, it’s also light on action, very drawn out and suffers from some severe bouts of depression. It really emphasizes Caesar’s struggle, and while that might be interesting, it just can’t escape the fact that it’s not always that entertaining.
5 Minute Movie Guy
*** Reviewer’s Note: After adding half-stars to my review scores, I changed the final score of War for the Planet of the Apes from 4 stars to 3.5 stars to better reflect my opinion. ***