It’s funny to look back to 2011 when Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released to people scratching their heads wondering why the fuck they made a prequel to a forty-year-old movie. This is even more surprising when you look at the track record of the whole Apes franchise which includes the masterful original, its four increasingly disappointing sequels, two shows, and that god-awful Tim Burton remake of the original starring Mark Wahlberg.
So it was supremely satisfying when Rise gave us the most basic foundations for what would later become the “Planet of the Apes.” But most importantly: it made us care about the apes, even though film history has determined they were the villain.
But Rise came out and it was actually really solid. It felt like a summer blockbuster with a message about animal cruelty. They closed it off in such a way that we could fill in the blanks for what came next.
Then Dawn was announced and it promised more backstory into the rise of Caesar as the leader of the monkeys. It became one of the best sequels to a Hollywood film in the new millennium thanks to the superb motion-capture work of Andy Serkis and Matt Reeves’ masterful direction. Whereas Rise didn’t quite set up the sequel, Dawn did more-so, even if I was alright with it being the last.
Now comes War, as was promised in its predecessor, and it’s just as extraordinary. Fifteen years after the events of Dawn, War picks up with a band of soldiers hoping to wipe out the apes for good. They mistake the apes’ abilities and find themselves nearly slaughtered. This time, though, Koba’s influence on the apes have led them to ally with humans rather than Caesar, who still has nightmares about his old nemesis.
Tragedy strikes, and the apes must move north to a promised land with “sand,” a subtle nod (and not the only one) to the setting of the original film. Caesar, however, splits off with Maurice and other apes in order to track down the savage Colonel played by Woody Harrelson in order to be free of their pursuit.
If there’s anything to complain about, it’s that when you have the word War in the title, you expect there to be some pretty cinematic battles, especially when you consider this is probably the last film in the saga. Unless they wish to continue on closer and closer to the events of the original, there isn’t much more they can do except remake the original, but I honestly think that would be super interesting because now it would be from the opposite point of few.
Much of the film takes place either journeying or stuck in a prison camp, with one climactic battle that ends far too easily and cheaply, which gives the impression they were really gunning for the spectacle and not the substance. But Reeves still spins an enthralling tale of revenge, family, and forgiveness. Caesar’s “war” isn’t with the humans, but rather himself and his need for revenge—something Koba was never able to reconcile. Serkis has perfected his performance, and with the jaw-dropping CGI, the apes feel so lifelike that you have to constantly remind yourself that they’re actually just a bunch of actors covered in little balls.
War for the Planet of the Apes caps off what has been one of the most brilliantly surprising trilogies that have ever come out. From its basic roots of a monkey growing up with a special serum, it evolved into a deep, spellbinding character study of a revolution-leading hero that saw the birth of one of the greatest film characters in recent memory. Andy Serkis, and his Caesar, will go down in history; there is no doubt about that. Combine that with Matt Reeves’ wonderful storytelling and they have elevated this trilogy to astronomical heights when everyone (myself included) had nothing but doubts.
If this truly is the end of our time in the Apes universe, then it has been a fantastic, thrilling ride that took a new spin on one of the most iconic films in the history of cinema. It compelled us to watch a story unfold when we already knew where its inevitable outcome. That is a pretty astounding achievement in itself, but this trilogy as a whole is nothing short of exceptional. War for the Planet of the Apes is everything a final chapter needs to be.