In 2011, the Planet of the Apes franchise was revived. Rise was a reboot, but also a prequel to a new series. Modern effects would allow more realistic apes than what was seen in the original films, and in Rise, we got to see some of the best effects of a modern blockbuster. The film was followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and to quote my review from it, it “is one of the finest movies of the century.” Caesar was already fantastic in Rise, but in Dawn his character was further cemented as one of the greatest of 21st century pop culture. War for the Planet of the Apes gets Caesar even further by making him and his ape companions the full-fledged protagonists. There’s no main human protagonist (aside from Nova) this time around. This works, because Caesar is an incredible character, and the other apes are great as well. They can easily hold a film together. War has many of the things that made its predecessors good films. It’s incredibly well written and provides a fine closure to a fantastic trilogy.
The opening scene makes sure to remind the viewer that this is a war. It’s a tension-filled sequence as we see the soldiers plan to attack the apes in the forest. Then, when the soldiers make an explosion, everything turns into chaos. It’s exciting when the apes rally to defend the woods. This opening scene grabs the viewer’s attention right away. It’s brutal as we see apes and soldiers getting killed from bullets and spears. After the battle, we’re shown Caesar deciding what to do with a traitor ape by the name of Red/Donkey and the soldier survivors. This is Andy Serkis’ best portrayal of Caesar yet. Every scene he’s in is Oscar-worthy.
Perhaps the core story is Caesar’s mission to take out The Colonel. It’s interesting because in a key scene, Maurice tells Caesar that the latter is starting to sound like Koba. This was a greatly written scene. Koba was the antagonist in Dawn, and in War Caesar at times “sees” Koba, showing that the rogue ape still haunts. Caesar’s journey, outward and inward, is engaging. He isn’t a one-dimensional hero. He fights to defend the apes, and goes through development after being hit with the realization that Maurice’s words are proving to be true. Caesar has easily become one of the greatest film franchise characters ever to be created.
As stated in the first paragraph, the apes can hold a film together. Each of the main ones are given personality, from Maurice being the soft observant one to Donkey being a loyal Koba follower. War introduces one new major ape protagonist, whom comes toward the latter part of the film. “Bad Ape” is actually the main negative why War isn’t the perfect film Dawn was. Dawn was a serious film, and arguably War should be even more serious. Bad Ape provides comic relief, such as saying “I’m okay” after tripping on something off screen. It just seemed like he was there to provide humor in an otherwise perilous story – but was it really necessary? I don’t think so. For an example backing up that standpoint, we have a scene where Bad Ape doesn’t know how to use binoculars. Then it cuts back to The Colonel’s ape prison. It goes from comedy then back to a serious situation; it just doesn’t mesh well. The tone change is abrupt and jarring. Ultimately, Bad Ape didn’t contribute much to the story and could have been left out of the script.
The primary antagonist is Colonel McCullough. He’s no Koba, as The Colonel is more of a textbook villain. But to call him generic would be a disservice as well. His scenes with Caesar throughout the final act were especially interesting to watch. As stated earlier, there’s no human protagonist driving the story forward. However, there is a human character whom the apes pick up. A little girl whom is later named Nova, she was a good character to have around. Despite not being able to talk, she displayed great emotion.
The lead-up to the climax is almost as exciting as the climax itself. Seeing the plan to escape was engaging. Then, the final battle provides an epic action sequence that won’t soon be forgotten. However, while the explosions are grand, it’s the different characters’ decisions that make the final act so memorable. From Caesar’s last encounter with The Colonel, to Donkey’s grenade gun, there’s so much emotion conveyed in these fantastic scenes. The soundtrack is particularly strong as well. The final scene provides a genuinely emotional ending to what will go down as one of the best trilogies out there.
Overall, War for the Planet of the Apes is a great film. Though not perfect like Dawn, just about everything works. Caesar is outstanding once again, and is given more to do. The action is very good, but it’s the interactions with the apes that truly make the film stand out. The themes of mercy and leadership are there, as Caesar has to make a choice of whether to be like Koba or not. The different ape characters are great, aside from Bad Ape. The emotion the different scenes convey is amazing. Who could forget Luca grabbing a flower from a tree and putting it on Nova? With a memorable final act, War concludes Caesar’s journey with excellence. Though there could be more Planet of the Apes films, War provides fine closer to the story set in motion in Rise.