The recent resurgence of the Planet of the Apes series has quietly grown from an interesting take on an old franchise, to a trilogy of films that rivals and in many ways surpass the classic set of movies. War for the Planet of the Apes is the final film in the trilogy of movies that follows Caesar from what is essentially the world we know today, all the way up through what is a clear bridge to the world of the future found in the original Planet of the Apes film.
Andy Serkis once again takes on the motion capture role of Caesar, leader of the primary group of apes that the trilogy of films has focused on. However, for the first time in the new series we get to see that this isn’t just about Caesar’s group of apes, there are other humans and apes all around the world that have had to deal with similar events. So while the “war” part of the title is a little exaggerated compared to what happens in the film, the world the past two films have created gets considerably larger.
While there are several new additions to War for the Planet of the Apes, the biggest and most impactful is Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). If you’ve seen the trailers for the movie, you probably already know Bad Ape is essentially the comic relief, but he’s actually quite a bit more than that. Writer and director, Matt Reeves, has done a wonderful job of creating a Jar Jar Binks-like character that actually works. George Lucas failed with Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace because he was too silly and too annoying to add anything of substance to the film. Bad Ape walks that line but never crosses it, creating just enough humor at all the right times.
The main antagonist of the film is The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), who leads a military unit against Caesar’s group of apes in spectacular fashion. This conflict is the “war” mentioned in the title, but as you watch events unfold you learn that things aren’t exactly as they appear. The Colonel and Caesar are at war with one another, but it’s not quite the epic showdown you might expect. In fact, the events in War for the Planet of the Apes could just as easily have fit in a heist or prison break film. This doesn’t take away from the movie all that much, but it does lower the stakes a bit.
In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar had to deal with a virtual mutiny at the hands of his former friend, Koba (Toby Kebbell). There’s clear conflict between apes in that film, and that’s taken to the next level in War. Several apes have sided with The Colonel and taken up arms against Caesar and his followers. One such betrayal leads to the main motivating factor for Caesar and the Colonel near the beginning of the film. This conflict further humanizes the apes to the point where you no longer see apes vs. humans, and instead view the situation as good vs. evil.
It’s fascinating how this trilogy of Apes films can cause an audience to root for the apes, even though it means the eventual demise of the human race as we know it. While War for the Planet of the Apes further progresses this thought process, it doesn’t flow quite as well as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Both films are good, but Dawn felt like the stakes were higher, especially when you find out the war isn’t really what the trailers make it out to be.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a good film, but it could’ve been better. If this was the first time we were seeing this kind of conflict, things would be different. However, War doesn’t elevate itself over what we’ve already seen in Dawn. It’s not “more of the same” but the stakes just aren’t as high as they could have and probably should have been. Caesar’s early motivation seems to outweigh his role as a leader, and while that shows relatable faults in the character, it just doesn’t have as much impact as the events in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Still, if you enjoyed the last two films, this is a close second place to Dawn and a nice change of pace in the midst of all the superhero films.
War for the Planet of the Apes:
About War for the Planet of the Apes
Synopsis: After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Stars: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn
Runtime: 2 Hours, 20 Minutes