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Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis stars in 20th Century Fox's WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

With War for the Planet of the Apes, people will be looking for something that will end the trilogy started in 2011 while also setting up everything for the previous movies that began back in 1968. While it’s able to successfully accomplish that, it does something else that is rarely ever done in all of film. By some miracle, Matt Reeves and the rest of the team actually managed to make the third movie of a trilogy that is the best of the bunch.

Following the events that took place during Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, we follow Caesar (Andy Serkis) as he leads his followers to what he hopes will conclude in a peaceful existence. Achieving that has always been the goal for him, but the recent actions of a ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson) sees him rethinking his stance as he begins to allow a darker side filled with vengeance and rage to take over. Now, the only that appears to be able to put an end to all that’s been fought for over the years is a face to face battle between man and ape.

I have to give War for the Planet of the Apes some credit (and somewhat of a pass) when just thinking about what the filmmakers were working with. Somehow, they have to get audiences to cheer for the apes while also kind of rooting against the last of humanity. This was the case in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but it was a little easier since it had good guys and bad guys on both sides of the fight that was taking place.

What makes this one different aside from it being the final film of the trilogy is that the safety net of having someone to root for and against on both sides is gone. Here, audiences are essentially asked to basically support the demise of the humans in some ways. And that becomes even more complicated for those of us who have seen or at least know about the original movies that these serve as prequels to.

In the original film (The Planet of the Apes), the protagonist is a human who is being persecuted and abused by the apes. To turn that around enough for people to back a group who will eventually turn into oppressors, the filmmakers had to straddle the fence a bit. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that they do a fine job. They’re able to make the audiences side with the apes to some degree while also giving us an opportunity to understand the motives of the humans at least to a certain extent.

In order to accomplish this, Woody Harrelson’s character is given a lot of time on-screen to tell his story. By doing this, we’re allowed to gain even more of an understanding behind why the humans that we see are doing what they’re doing. We clearly know that they want to survive, but his character is a bit of a “loose cannon” who lets us in on what’s happening on that end. This alone adds to the much-needed depth to the film while also managing to build toward the climax (more on this later) that we’re waiting to get to.

With many films, there are things that inspire the stories that are being told. And in War for the Planet of the Apes, a few stories from The Bible are obvious inspirations for what’s being showcased.  I don’t know if it was done as a way to emulate the stories that originated from the religious text or if it was only used to tell this particular tale, but it’s included and they don’t shy away from that. Regardless of why it’s used, all of it is implemented in a way that effectively helps in crafting a well told and carefully constructed feature.

Another aspect which could have more of an impact for some is the war that we’re supposed to be getting at some point during the movie. If you’re hoping to get what they’re promising on the poster, there’s a chance that you may be disappointed since that scene doesn’t come close to happening. Yes, there is a war, but it’s not what you are likely expecting. Instead, what we do get is as sound of an answer to the questions I’ve always had about how exactly the apes would ultimately take over. While this may not be exactly what you or I wanted, it does give us something that’s fairly reasonable even if it ends with a tad bit of a bail out.

When looking at this trilogy as a whole, the third film literally makes the second one meaningless. You can pretty much skip over that one if you haven’t seen it already and just head straight to this one. It was tricky trying to turn this entire thing into a series of films that connect. If you want to, I guess you can consider Rise to be about the development of Caesar while Dawn and War are more about the overarching story even though the protagonist and his journey are the central piece in all three.

Anyway, War for the Planet of the Apes is a nice finish to a trio of solid movies. With this being what it is, I guess there’s also enough room to continue by making a fresh set of films if they wanted to since there’s so much time in between these movies and the series of pictures that started it all back in the 70s. Then again, they could also just remake the original ones as well. Either way, they have options that will be profitable if handled properly.

Rating: PG-13

Director: Matt Reeves

Andy Serkis
Woody Harrelson
Steve Zahn
Amiah Miller
Terry Notary
Karin Konoval

Film Length: 130 minutes

Release Date: July 14, 2017

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

  • 7/10
    Score - 7/10
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