Don't let the talking monkeys and farfetched post-apocalyptic setting of War for the Planet of the Apes fool you. It's a Shakespearean tragedy more than anything else.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a high-strung, emotional story of personal tragedy, vengeance and the fight for survival when everything is working against you. It's a story of perseverance and the fight for equality — to live among family and friends without the fear of persecution. It's a warning of what can happen when decisions based on uninformed fears are made by those with a lack of moral conscience and complete power.
It is, in every sense of the term, a story about what it means to be human, but with one small exception. The humans in War for the Planet of the Apes that march through California arrogantly and viciously are the monsters.
It is a movie that examines the darkest part of human nature; the greed, bloodlust, power-hungry qualities we all carry with us. It confronts those urges without ever stepping back from the harsh reality of what it leads to: discrimination, fear, hatred and war.
It's important that War for the Planet of the Apes sets itself up as the darkest in the trilogy because as much as it's about how much the main character, Caesar (Andy Serkis) has to lose, the movie succeeds because it never loses sigh of how much he has to gain.
The Planet of the Apes movies have always been about hope. Hope that apes could walk among men, talk among men and live among men as equals. As humans began to react negatively to the idea of super intelligent apes coexisting with them, the hope Caesar has that apes will be able to live in peace becomes a light he doesn't give up on. In War for the Planet of the Apes, that hope quickly diminishes, but it's replaced with a new kind of optimism — a promise that one day the future of his community will be able to live somewhere in the world that man can not find.
War for the Planet of the Apes recognizes what past films couldn't. Humans aren't going to change and if apes want to be able to live in a world without persecution, they must fight their way out of the darkness to find hope once again.
Bookended by an award-worthy performance from Serkis and fantastic new additions including Woody Harrelson and Steve Zahn, War for the Planet of the Apes is the best movie in the entire franchise. It's captivating and emotional, but funny and charming when it needs to be. It doesn't downplay war, but it also won't leave you feeling depressed.
War for the Planet of the Apes isn't just a near perfect example of what a summer blockbuster should look like, but rather of what all films should aspire to accomplish.
War for the Planet of the Apes begins with tragedy that leads to Caesar deciding to break his own rule about not engaging with the humans hunting down his tribe. His decision to try to kill the Colonel (Harrelson) while his tribe runs off in search of a safe environment to live in results in terrible consequences for everyone involved. Caesar, with the help of his friends and newfound acquaintances including the hilarious Bad Ape (Zahn), will have to try and fix their predicament before everyone he knows is killed.
One of the best improvements War for the Planet of the Apes brings to the trilogy is diving deeper into Caesar's own psyche. Up until now, Caesar has been a leading figure to a tribe of apes that see him as the chosen one. We haven't been able to get to know him because, like the apes, he's always been kept at a distance from us. He's a mysterious figure; a brilliant man and war strategist that we've respected but couldn't root for on a personal level.
War for the Planet of the Apes changes that. The movie starts with an inside look at his family life and ends with it. There's a constant reminder that while the overarching issue looming over the tribe of apes is bigger than just Caesar's own feelings, a large part of their battle can be defined by his own personal journey.
The combination of the never-ending hope Caesar carries with him and this personal desire to settle the score for his own losses drives the movie forward in a way the last two couldn't. It's impossible to tear your eyes away from the screen, even in the movie's quietest moments. Like Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, part of War for the Planet of the Apes is driven solely by dialogue and beautiful cinematography. Past films in the Apes franchise wouldn't have been able to support this because there was no reason to care about what Caesar had to say beyond uproarious pre-battle speeches and goosebump-inducing threats. This added weight that Caesar has to carry gives the movie the extra edge it needs to draw you in on a more personal level than ever before and that's what makes it feel special.
It's hard not to cry for Caesar and the rest of his tribe. It's hard not to feel like you're watching yourself being reflected in the monstrous humans who hunt and maim them day in and day out. It's hard, at times, to remember to breathe. That's the type of movie that War for the Planet of the Apes is.
But what should also be acknowledged is just how funny the movie can be thanks to Bad Ape. Zahn's portrayal of the dimwitted ape who has been in hiding for the past few months and reluctantly joins Caesar's group is the unrecognized hero. Like every good Shakespearean tragedy, the comic relief that often times accompanies a moment of catharsis is arguably the most important part of the story. Without it, the story becomes too heavy for the audience and it feels like you're drowning. Bad Ape is crucial to the movie's success, but he's not just a throwaway character. His scenes are the ones I recall the most, of which I return to often when thinking about the movie. His role won't receive as much attention as Caesar or even the Colonel, whom Harrelson also played very well, but it is important.
Comedy, especially in dark dramas, is the breath of fresh air that lets the movie continue. Without it, we would be too wound up to enjoy what we're watching and Bad Ape is a perfect example of why it needs to exist. He also happens to be adorable and overtly kind-hearted, which is something War for the Planet of the Apes desperately needs.
War for the Planet of the Apes had the impossible task of wrapping up what its predecessors set up and making itself just as good as what's come before it. It had to neatly tie every thing together while being able to stand on its own feet. Perhaps most importantly, it had to do justice for Caesar in telling his story; a character we've spent more than five years with and someone that we've come to cherish.
War for the Planet of the Apes does all of this and more, earning the title as the best movie in the trilogy. As a long time fan of the series, it's everything I wanted it to be me. War for the Planet of the Apes has a way of sticking with you, even days after you've finished watching it, finding a way to pop up in your mind at the most random of times.
War for the Planet of the Apes, like the two films before it, probably won't be a massive success, but for those who have stuck with the series, it's the perfect and cathartic ending we've been waiting for. It will not disappoint you.