Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

Don’t expect much “war” in this entry of the Planet of the Apes series, but enjoy instead an impressive, character-driven story. 

The final movie to round off a trilogy can be a tricky one. Some deliver hard-hitting, emotional sequences that will have you crying for days – much like in Toy Story 3 – while others have the misfortune of trying to trump the success of their predecessors, which The Dark Knight Rises handled fairly well. War for the Planet of the Apes falls in between the two, offering more of an emotionally-driven drama compared to its forerunner, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but with less of an explosive climax and more of a character-based angle.

Set two years after the battle with the humans and the death of the ape traitor, Koba, we find Caesar and his tribe of apes in the woods, still at war with the humans. Not wanting to suffer any more losses, Caesar offers signs of peace to the remaining human factions, but in return is met with more death that hits closer to home. Filled with rage and struggling with his darker instincts, Caesar and a small band of brothers set out for revenge to put an end to the ape-hating Colonel and his monkey-killers.

It’s here where the film thrives, as the audience is immersed into the brutal atmosphere of a post-war world. Humans have set up makeshift camps through exploiting the help of ‘Donkeys’, a remnant of Koba’s followers that are willing to help humans kill off all remaining apes. We’re shown a funfair buried in snow, with other humans that have been executed there for being mute, and also introduced to an ape survivor, Bad Ape, that knows the atrocities committed by the humans all too well. These sequences give off an almost “Ape-ocalypse now” effect, if you will, which successfully show how the world has adapted to apes suddenly becoming a superior race. However, War loses this effect once Caesar reaches the Colonel’s camp, as it puzzlingly strays into a film about breaking from oppression – something which Rise had already explored.

It was disappointing, but this direction did effectively show how Caesar has grown as a character, giving Andy Serkis more opportunities to show off his acting prowess. Steve Zahn’s surprising Bad Ape stole the show with his quirky comic-relief character, giving audiences plenty to giggle about but also to feel for, with Zahn communicating the loneliness of his character well. Woody Harrelson’s Colonel was psychotically brilliant but woefully under-used, only really there to give Caesar dirty glances. What baffled me was why the little girl, as seen in the trailers, was included in the movie at all; she could have easily been cut out and not have changed any circumstance in any event that happens.

While certainly smaller, more character-focused and not as action-packed as Dawn, which may disappoint some as the title explicitly states “war”, this finale gives people more of Caesar than ever before. It may miss an intriguing opportunity to explore a more war-ridden world, but the closing chapter Caesar’s story ends in a stunning and moving manner. “Apes, Together, Strong”, indeed.


Exposed watched War for the Planet of the Apes at The Light Cinema. Click here for their current listings. For other reviews from Exposed, head here

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