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When Rise of the Planet of the Apes was announced, no one could have imagined how good the reinvention of the classic sci-fi franchise would turn out to be. And it only got better when Matt Reeves' Dawn of the Planet of the Apes took the series even further into that rarest of places: a reboot that raised the stakes of quality even higher than its source materials. So naturally the expectation was that War for the Planet of the Apes would be a finale that would under perform, as most third films do. It pleases me to say that not only is the film more epic than its predecessors, it's a truly satisfying finale to Caesar's trilogy of films.
Two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, an enclave of human soldiers, lead by a vicious Colonel (Woody Harrelson), are planning to make a final stand against apekind. With time running out, and talk of finding a new homeland starting to gain traction, Caesar (Andy Serkis) must decide what's best for his followers, and not a moment too soon. The planet is in the balance, and whoever wins this ultimate conflict will be the decisive victor.
The greatest compliment I can pay to War for the Planet of the Apes is that it manages to broaden its story's epic scope without biting off more than it can chew. It is a movie that absolutely ties together the three films in the Caesar cycle, and it does so by developing the story to its fullest potential. Every callback means something, and every decision has a weight to it that is paid off further down the line, which is fantastic considering the pressures for a third film to wrap everything up with a neat bow.
But while War for the Planet of the Apes takes the time to put everything in its place, it isn't afraid to do something new. As opposed to the first two more-blockbuster-friendly Apes films, Matt Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback have put together a film that is so densely paced that it does truly feel like the slowest of the bunch. But as a result, they have layered the film with symbology and meaning that fulfill the historical, Shakespearian, and even biblical influences to which Caesar's story has always alluded. Even with fresh characters like Steve Zahn's Bad Ape, the film manages to give us a new personality to latch onto in the world of the apes, while at the same time not making any of the established characters any poorer as a result.
If you're concerned there won't be enough action to buoy the more serious matters, rest assured there's still plenty of impressive warfare in War for the Planet of the Apes. The film opens with a jungle combat sequence reminiscent of Vietnam-era films like Apocalypse Now, and the third act of Matt Reeves' film contains some of the finest action sequences you'll see all year. And yet, the visuals don't waver, and the character work doesn't lack anything substantial for the most part, as another new character, Amiyah Miler's Nova, plays an important part in the journey of Andy Serkis' Caesar.
Unfortunately, there is one sore spot in the plot development of the film, and it's the Colonel himself. While the film is selling him as a big bad ass, the story doesn't really allow him to get to the mythically horrific level they really want him to be. Thankfully, Woody Harrelson picks up the slack in this character, and still manages a level of formidability that would have been lost with the wrong actor in the role. But ultimately, this is Caesar's story, and it's obvious that Andy Serkis is, and will always be, the heart and soul of this fascinating character. Caesar is put through the wringer in this trilogy-capping installment, and his is truly a performance that deserves the highest reward.
The Planet of the Apes reboot has been a brief, but immensely rewarding journey. Seeing the development of the ape who would be king has been a real treat, and it's one that's only gotten sweeter with Matt Reeves directing and Michael Giacchino's scoring. Unlike his literary namesake, this film does not come to bury Caesar, but rather to praise him at full voice. A deliberately paced epic that closes the trilogy on a high note, War for the Planet of the Apes is not only one of the smartest movies of the year, it's possibly the best film of the summer.