‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Review: Better Than Star Wars or Superheroes

Drew Dietsch
of 5
Review Essentials
  • Jaw-dropping effects
  • Emotionally powerful
  • Mature storytelling
  • Dark but in a good way
  • Compelling characters
  • A perfect end to a trilogy
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a great introduction to Caesar (Andy Serkis), the first ape to gain intelligence and rebel against humanity. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opened the world up and showed us the beginnings of ape civilization and the downfall of humanity. Now, War for the Planet of the Apes concludes one part of the saga as Caesar must battle against a zealous Colonel and find a new home for his family.

A Blockbuster for Adults

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The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), his men, and followers of Koba join together to hunt Caesar and his family

The Planet of the Apes franchise has always had a surprising level of maturity and complexity to it, and that has been exceptionally displayed with the recent reboot films. And there is no other way to say this: War for the Planet of the Apes is jaw-dropping. It’s the first in the new series to be completely from the apes’ perspective and it’s about time. The only human characters – minus the mute child Nova who is basically one of the apes – are villains that offer the biggest and most personal threat to Caesar and his friends we’ve seen yet.

It should be noted that War for the Planet of the Apes is dark. Not in a “take me seriously” way like other genre blockbusters, but in an emotional and textual way. This is a movie that gets to a core belief that stems all the way back to the original film: mankind is doomed and it’s their own damn fault. It’s shocking to see a tentpole film deal with such a nihilistic concept, but it’s explored in such a fascinating way that it never feels maudlin or manipulative.

Long Live Caesar

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Caesar (Andy Serkis) goes hunting for the Colonel

So much of that is due to how compelling Caesar and the apes are. Their story is the one of hope and triumph. Director Matt Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback blatantly draw from the biblical story of Moses and apply this classic character arc to Caesar in extraordinarily moving sequences. Andy Serkis has never been better in these films, and his performance (along with the other motion capture actors) never gets lost in the unbelievably real effects that bring the apes to life. And you will fall in love with Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape, the funniest and most touching character the series has ever produced.

This is also a phenomenal blockbuster. The action is tense and exhilarating, but never showy or shallow. Every big moment is weighted by character motivations and personal conflict. Nothing feels beholden to some unseen plot that’s moving things along simply to move things along. It’s a true testament to the value of characters over story.

Is War for the Planet of the Apes Good?

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Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) is happy to help his new friends

Forget Star Wars and superheroes, this is the platinum standard for blockbuster filmmaking. It’s the best entry in the rebooted series and might be the best film in the entire saga. It’s a genuinely risky and powerfully adult tale told with the biggest canvas possible. If this is where this new series ends, it’s an incredible sendoff as well as the best summer tentpole film of 2017.

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