When you think War for the Planet of the Apes, the first thing that comes to mind is a bunch of chimps riding horses and shooting people with machine guns. That is definitely an aspect of the franchise that draws in curious viewers.
But people don’t really watch Planet of the Apes movies for that. They watch it for the surprisingly deep themes that come with the package, such as the demise of man and whether or not it is deserved, whether a different species could do better than us.
This third installment of the reboot trilogy definitely has all that, even though some might be disappointed at the lack of ape-on-human warfare, with the opening sequence being the big exception. A majority of the movie is seeing the abuses that the apes must suffer and the cruelty of humanity. It begins with Caesar (played perfectly yet again by Andy Serkis) leaves his clan behind for a revenge quest, taking with him his loyal sidekicks. Of course, with most revenge movies, it leads Caesar and his people (Can we call them that?) to danger.
A bleak movie like this seldom finds a home during the summertime, but it seems Planet of the Apes is one of the few franchises that can pull it off. Perhaps the initial absurdity of seeing apes on our level allows these ideas to be discussed frankly. It’s like using puppets to explain what genocide is all about.
Like the last movie, the motion-capture effects are spotless. Rather than sticking out, CGI works with the narrative and the physical actors, such as Woody Harrelson, who plays the main villain. Initially, I thought the villain would be the weakest part of the movie, but his cruel actions turn out to have a practical basis. It doesn’t redeem him. It only makes it seem like he was once a normal man.
Then there’s Nova (played Amiah Miller), a version of a character from the original movie. Nova is a typical mute waif who keeps the apes sympathetic while also giving us a human character who isn’t a fiend. She’s a generic character that serves her purpose manages not to irritate.
Fittingly, the best characters are the apes. Steve Zahn plays Bad Ape, a benevolent version of Gollum that conveys both humor and sadness whenever it speaks. You laugh yet feel sorry soon after. And who could forget Maurice (played by Karin Konoval), the perfect adviser for Caesar who serves as an intellectual and moral beacon for the ape leader.
My only real gripe with the last two ape movies was the human characters, who always seemed so flat compared to the dynamic apes. Good thing this final movie is almost all ape, and what little human there is manages to be compelling. Perhaps it’s purposeful that viewers find themselves more drawn to the apes than people. They might see a primal purity in the apes, something they envy, something that sparks imaginations and pumps the blood.
Few other trilogies outside of Lord of the Rings and Toy Story can boast such a consistent level of quality. The saga of Caesar has come to an end, but if this story should continue with different character, I can only hope they stay on the path that has been laid out before them. But to error is human. It’s the same with ape.