The latest iteration of the Planet of the Apes saga that began nearly a half century ago concludes on a major franchise high note. What Rupert Wyatt began in satisfying fashion with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Matt Reeves continued with success in 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is elevated even more so with War for the Planet of the Apes. Mr. Reeves returns behind the camera with an epic and sorrowful tale of Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) constant battle between his species and the humans remaining to fight them.
The third installment also continues the perfection of the motion capture wizardry that brings the apes to life. It’s been enormously impressive in parts 1 and 2. It’s taken another leap forward in War. That said, we’re grown accustomed to legions of these characters being seen in our blockbusters. A compelling story must follow and it’s present.
When Dawn concluded, Caesar had dispensed of treacherous right-hand ape Koba but knew what was left of the human race’s army would hunt him. War opens two years later with Caesar, his family, and the other apes dwelling in the woods. Their nemesis here is a demented colonel (Woody Harrelson) and his devoted military men. Tragedy strikes and it pits Caesar on a revengeful mission against the Colonel, who isn’t too far removed from the character of Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Harrelson is a great villain here with his own backstory in this dystopian world.
War introduces us to some new characters – both real and generated. There’s a mute young girl (Amiah Miller) who joins the apes on their joinrney. Series aficionados will reocognize her signifance quickly. Steve Zahn also brilliantly brings “Bad Ape” to life, a former zoo inhabitant who provides some much needed comic relief to the proceedings.
Yet this trilogy has focused mostly on Caesar and Serkis’s absolutely astonishing portrayal of him. The effects team goes even further in making him seem so very real. The writing and the actor’s commitment succeed in making his arch very emotional.
War for the Planet of the Apes is the best of the three and the other two were both quite solid. This is the end of this particular Apes chapter, but Reeves and his team leave us with the possibility of more and wanting it.
***1/2 (out of four)