I wasn’t expecting much from the “Planet of the Apes” reboot back in 2011, but I vividly remember walking out of the theater thoroughly impressed. The tragic origin of the first super-intelligent ape, Caesar, left me entertained, excited, but most of all, totally emotionally wrecked. “Rise’s” sequel, “Dawn,” only increased the stakes as humanity struggled to survive alongside a growing ape population. As such, my expectations for “War” were high.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” picks up two years after the fallout of “Dawn.” Following the ape attack on San Francisco led by the rogue ape, Koba, the remaining humans on the West Coast have banded together with the remnants of Koba’s ape faction for a last stand against Caesar’s tribe. A surprise attack and capture of the clan leads Caesar on a path to liberate his people while internally struggling with a thirst for revenge.
Woody Harrelson’s Colonel leads the Alpha-Omega military group, but Andy Serkis again steals the show with his phenomenal performance as Caesar. Much more subdued than in the last two films, Serkis delivers most of his performance through his expressions and other nuances. Though it’s hard to tell how much is CGI and how much is Serkis, I would vouch for the third time for some award recognition to go to Serkis.
Like Serkis’ performance, “War” is a quieter film than its predecessors. That’s doesn’t mean that there’s no action, and I certainly wouldn’t say it needed more spectacle — the third act is itself one enormous, explosive set piece. However, “War” felt much less ambitious than its two older siblings, and I think it suffered some for it.
In particular, the driving forces in “War” just didn’t resonate for me. Where “Rise” dealt with identity and human introspection and “Dawn” with race relations, “War” doesn’t really do anything with its narrative. The thin plot made up half by a road trip and half by an action/escape film didn’t do justice to the topical societal tensions built up by the previous two installments.
Furthermore, if you haven’t seen the previous two movies, you’ll likely miss out on a lot of the emotional payoff the film delivers. With its absence of a strong plot, “War” serves only decently as a standalone movie. Knowing Caesar’s journey to the present lends to “War” being better as a trilogy finale.
At the very least, the film is absolutely gorgeous. Matt Reeves’ directing is spectacular to take in, and the choice to set the film in heavy snowfall is inspired. This is easily the best-looking movie I’ve seen all year.
“War” isn’t a bad film, it’s just not as great as “Rise” or “Dawn.” Apart from being a tad bit boring, I really did like this movie. I just wish it had tried to push the envelope as far as its predecessors did.
A pretty worthy finale to a great trilogy:
“War for the Planet of the Apes” will be playing at the Southwest Film Center in the lower level of the Student Uninion Building through Oct. 5.
Hector Valverde is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He primarily writes movie reviews. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @hpvalverde.