As the opening to the film explains, War takes place 15 years after Rise and a few years after Dawn. The apes have retreated further into the forest, but are being hunted by the military force called in at the end of the previous movie. The apes want to find a new home, away from humanity and away from the war Koba started.
I’d like to keep this review fairly short and sweet, since we’ve all got other things to do. To start, here’s the great:
Like Dawn, War excels at showing the humanity in the simians. They are believable and relatable characters. Andy Serkis shines as Caesar, in what I’d considered my favorite performance of his to date. His motion-capture body acting and the animation team delivered the most emotive, captivating scenes in the film, connecting you to the character more successfully than any other sci-fi movie I can recall of late. The lead human antagonist, Woody Harrelson’s character, fell flat in comparison. There was not enough screen time or emotion for the audience to connect with the plight of Colonel Harrelson.
Aside from the rich portrayal of the apes as people, the film did a fantastic job with the visual effects. The details on the apes from their fur, to the faces to their gait; the way the apes interacted with the set, environment and actors; and the general effects such as rain, smoke and explosions were all spot on. I was visually engaged throughout the entire movie, with none of the elements making me go “Hmm, that’s a little off” like the jumping scenes in Wonder Woman did.
The last shining part of the movie was the introduction of a new ape, voiced by Timothy Zahn. His character, Bad Ape, reintroduced comic relief from Rise that I found missing in Dawn. Bad Ape successfully cut tension at key points in the film, bringing the whole theater to laughs and allowing my body to relax for a moment before I got caught up in the seriousness again.
As much as I enjoyed the film, there are two main things that bothered me. The first is the title. This was much less of a war movie than Rogue One was. There were a couple skirmishes or battles, but nothing to really give a sense of scale to mean war between ape and mankind. Perhaps it’s pedantic, but it would have been more aptly named Fight or Battle.
The second complaint concerns the young human girl, portrayed by Amiah Miller, and my gripe about her is specific. I’m done with our young female leads being the silent type! Eleven barely speaks in all of Stranger Things, Laura said nothing for about 2/3rds of Logan, and Miller’s Nova can’t talk. Give me strong, brave, powerful girls that can speak and reason. It worked great for Wonder Woman, now let’s do it for our child actors. (I will clarify, though, that Nova’s role actually served a purpose to the film, unlike Transformers: The Last Knight‘s Izabella. While Izabella was smart and talkative, her scenes in the film could have been 100% cut in editing and you’d never have noticed the difference.)
Obviously, those two problems have little to do with the quality or enjoyability of the film. If you enjoyed Rise or Dawn, you’ll like War For the Planet of the Apes. It’s tense, it’s moving, and it’s satisfying. 9/10, A-, a bunch of gold stars, whatever scale says to you “It’s not a waste of my money to see this in the theater.”
Just a note: I went to a widescreen, Dolby Atmos viewing, and the extra ticket price for that format is more than worth it’s if available in your area. I’ve watched all three films on the big screen, and each one has been better than the last, but this is the first I saw with the special screen and Atmos. I’ve been going almost exclusively to Dolby Atmos (or similar sound systems), and it’s a sound experience that truly immerses you and you can’t replicate at home. If you don’t want to pay a huge sum for a ticket, catch the discounted matinees and you end up paying the same (or, sometimes less) as a regular screen in the evening.