This is my review for the final entry in the current Apes trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes. You can also read my reviews for Rise and Dawn, the first two entries, below.
I compared Rise to Batman Begins. I compared Dawn to the Dark Knight. And this trend continues, not only because I chose to use that comparison, but because the Caesar trilogy mirrors The Dark Knight trilogy in many ways. War is very much akin to The Dark Knight Rises in tone, atmosphere, and ranking in their respective trilogies.
The second entries in both trilogies stand as their crowning achievements. But the closing chapters are both a very close second. Just as The Dark Knight Rises was only slightly behind The Dark Knight in my opinion, so War is only slightly behind Dawn. Both films feature a hero who is all but broken, and who will do whatever he must to save those he is trying to protect. There are even visual similarities, with the snow-swept streets of Gotham replaced by the snow-swept mountains of War.
But perhaps the biggest inspiration for War is Apocalypse Now, an homage that director Matt Reeves makes no attempt to keep secret. Scrawled across the ruins in this film is graffiti spelling out "Ape-pocalypse Now", and the DNA of Kubrick's haunting war epic is all over the conclusion to Caesar's trilogy. Woody Harrelson's performance as The Colonel strongly channels Marlon Brando's from AN, and they both serve as the forceful figure at the heart of human darkness.
War is aptly named, as the conflict between humans and apes is reaching a crescendo. Caesar has been trying desperately to find a permanent home for his group of apes. The humans, led by the Colonel, have no intention of living and letting live, and strike deeper into the heart of Caesar's family than ever before, which spurs him into a furious quest to remove the human threat once and for all.
Along the way, the situation escalates, just as the action ramps up in The Dark Knight Rises, eventually engulfing not only the key figures, but the entire group of apes and humans alike, until a battle of epic proportions is imminent. It will take every single ape to figure out a way through this conflict, and there is no guarantee that anyone will make it out alive.
Andy Serkis gives a powerful and triumphant final turn as Caesar, and Woody Harrelson matches him stride for stride. This entire trilogy is very much the story of Caesar, and in each film he comes into contact with a singular human figure that irrevocably changes him. In War, we see him in the strength of his leadership, but also in the brokenness of his defeat, and in his darkest moment, on the verge of becoming the very thing that haunts him: Koba, one of his closest allies and greatest foes.
This film is an epic in every sense of the word. This entire series performs a balancing act between small character moments and gigantic action, and War is no exception. It brings the trilogy to a thundering and satisfying close, with enough room left over for there to be potentially more films after. And as well as this series has performed commercially, I wouldn't be surprised if there are.
If you like this series, you will love this movie, and this film is best viewed within the context of the first two films. The payoff of Caesar's arc as a character will have much more impact if you view it as a whole. I recommend watching the others before this one. War is not only a great movie, but the conclusion to one of the most complete and cohesive trilogies to grace the silver screen in quite some time. And it holds the honor of being the series that completely changed my mind when it comes to The Planet of the Apes.
All hail Caesar.