In 2011, when Rise of the Planet of the Apes released, it was more of a sci-fi curiosity than anything. A medium-sized, impressive homage to one of the better known weird-fiction movies. The reviews were from good to fine. People liked War for the Planet of the Apes, and it came and went.
In 2017, after an epic, beautiful sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the prequel trilogy has quickly morphed into one of the best, most expertly crafted sci-fi stories in the modern days, and that brings us to War for the Planet of the Apes.
War for the Planet of the Apes opens with a sequence of a group of human soldiers find and attempt to destroy an ape stronghold in the woods, and it is magnificent and otherworldly. We’re with the boots-on-the ground soldiers, coming up against these mythical, alien beings. For the first time, it really does feel like taking place on another planet.
The third of the trilogy has beats are similar to the second one, but with a much more compelling villain in The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). His motivations are clear and brutal from the outset, he has been driven half-mad by the death of his son and the decimation of the human race. In a void of accountability, it’s the apes who he holds responsible. His singular mission to destroy Caesar in the early stages seeing an incredible botch, but forces Caesar to seek revenge at the cost of leaving his tribe.
This trilogy is Caesar’s story, and he gets a fitting ending here. Caesar’s nuance and internal conflict is lesser than in the previous two installments, his biggest moments often come in well-acted but one-note martyrdom, once he does find the Colonel and discovers his tribe, who he left to find a new home, were swiftly captured, and are now imprisoned.
The quieter scenes between Caesar and the Colonel are nothing but magnificent. The two are caught in their own personal vendettas, perhaps at the cost of their own people. Rarely has a Hollywood blockbuster been this serious, thoughtful, or bold about telling a morality story.
A bright spot in all the doom and gloom comes in franchise newcomer Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who settled on his own name after being called that at the zoo he previously inhabited. Bad Ape is the first ape we’ve met who hasn’t been a part of Caesar’s uprising. He’s amiable, excitable, goofy, and caught between two worlds he isn’t quite a part of.
If there’s a connecting thread throughout the three Apes movies, it would be the tragedy of poor communication that makes things impossible translations. That tragedy brings the idea that things could have been so different, so much better, for everyone on the table.
While this particular Apes story comes to a close, we are almost certainly not done yet. War for the Planet of the Apes movie ends with an eye to the future, and now that the Caesar story has been told, there are still infinite options to explore. With three fantastic films under its belt, perhaps the franchise might have the confidence to turn a bit more towards its pulpy, hard sci-fi roots. Those looking for Easter eggs about the series’ future will experience a few pleasant surprises here. There’s a whole world just being born out there. We’ve only seen the very start, and what a journey it was.