Rise of the Planet of the Apes released in 2011 began the rebooted franchise that almost no one wanted. The result was a surprisingly decent blockbuster that pushed the boundaries of CGI. The sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, astonished viewers with a visually engaging film grounded by strong emotional performances both by the humans and apes. Matt Reeves returning to direct the last in the trilogy was the best decision the studio could make. War for the Planet of the Apes doesn’t quite reach the heights of Dawn but stands out as a stellar conclusion to the series.
War starts off two years after Dawn, with Caesar and the apes at war with the humans. Caesar and his group hide out in the woods with the humans closing in on them. Tensions are high as Caesar still wants to make peace but it’s far too late. Not only is Caesar dealing with humans, but a select number of apes still loyal to Koba have joined the humans complicating the war. After an attack by the humans, Caesar and his group are ready to retreat and journey further, to the desert where they’ll be safer. Complications cause Caesar and his close friends to break off from the group to track down the ruthless Colonel who leads the humans. What worked so well in the second film and continues into the third is Matt Reeves’ ability to create set pieces that are beautiful and aesthetically engaging. Reeves effortlessly crafts breathtaking visuals all from the abandoned and neglected world, now run by apes. The forest where the apes reside in the beginning of the film stands out with lush vegetation, wooden structures built by the apes, and wondrous waterfalls. It’s refreshing to be taken back by little details in each frame instead of being bored by lazy and neglected mise-en-scène. While most post-apocalyptic franchises are dark and dreary, Planet of the Apes is unique in its view of a dying world.
In the film, the Colonel played by Woody Harrelson tells Caesar, “no matter what you say, eventually you’d replace us. That’s the law of nature”. Considering this is a Planet of the Apes reboot, viewers know that the Apes will take over. But what the series does in such an interesting way is show how the characters react to this phenomenon. Caesar tries to coexist with the humans at every opportunity he gets, which rarely works out for him. While most apes are filled with hatred towards the humans, Caesar understands them which is so admirable given the fact he knows the apes will eventually take over. Caesar’s complex moral compass makes him stand out and engaging to watch. It’s rare for a franchise to have such a well written character. While War for the Planet of the Apes surpasses Dawn in almost every technical , it’s missing something at it’s core. Dawn had an incredible group of human protagonists that gave the film a certain levity that War doesn’t seem to have. Also, a majority of War takes place in one location which starts to muddle the film down towards the end. If a few minutes of the film were cut, this wouldn’t be as big of a problem. Luckily, the film ends on a strong note ending the series with an emotional but satisfying conclusion. Looking back at the trilogy, it’s astonishing to notice all the things that could have gone wrong but didn’t. The series is a rare example of a franchise that prioritizes craftsmanship and breathtaking visuals over a familiar formula guaranteed to make a profit. Sadly, it will most likely be a while before we see a franchise as audacious and memorable as Planet of the Apes.