*Disclaimer! This review contains spoilers towards the end. Proceed with caution*
War for the Planet of the Apes is the third movie in the new Apes trilogy. It is the continued story of an ape named Caesar who, after being spurned by human attacks, goes on a mission to hunt down the responsible party. He makes some new friends along the way as they traverse this post-apocalyptic world. Caesar is tested throughout his journey as he leads his people through the ape war with the humans in search of peace and freedom.
As usual, the motion capture work done in these films is fantastic. I feel this way whenever a new one comes out, but the apes truly feel real. The facial animations that result from the motion capture are very human and thus make the apes seem more intelligent, which is exactly what is intended. The CGI on the apes especially is done in a way that looks and feels real rather than coming across as cartoonish and over-the-top, something that many modern films struggle to do. Andy Serkis once again shows off his mastery of the craft in his movements and speech patterns as Caesar.
A big element of War for the Planet of the Apes that, from conversations had post film, is bound to be controversial is the manner of story-telling. I personally love the fact that director Matt Reeves managed to tell a completely comprehendible story with very little dialogue. The vast majority of the movie is either subtitled or just grunts from the various characters. Even then, there really weren’t that many subtitles. Caesar, the colonel, and a few other humans regularly talk (as well as a few barely-English lines from the various apes) but that’s it.
I personally didn’t think there even needed to be that much dialogue due to how good the cinematography was. Most of what you needed to know was shown to you rather than told to you. The way the camera focused on certain objects, the way the actors emoted to each other, etc. all accomplished this and still managed to be believable and understandable. This is very surprising considering how dialogue-heavy the last two Planet of the Apes films were, but considering this was a war film, it made sense.
*Spoilers start here*
There were several scenes of exposition dumps that completely countered the wonderful visual story-telling. Granted, they helped to explain some of the more confusing plot points, but I’m sure they could have found more visual ways to explain some of it. There’s one scene in particular between Caesar and the colonel that is literally 10 minutes of exposition dumping. It cleared up quite a bit about why certain humans were losing their ability to speak, why the Colonel is the way he is, and so on. However, there’s a scene later in the movie that further visually explains the colonel’s backstory and they could’ve easily done the same for the non-speaking humans. It made this particular exposition scene a lot worse in hindsight and hindered the otherwise fantastic world-building of the film.
One other major issue with the story-telling is that it relies way too heavily on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Yes, War is a direct sequel to Dawn, but it didn’t follow the story-telling precedent that this trilogy seemed to want to set. That precedent being that each individual film stands on its own, thus not relying too much on the story of the past. Of course, sequels need to reference past events otherwise, why even bother keeping them in the same story universe? However, every time Koba showed up in one of Caesar’s fever dreams, it just took me out of the movie. War for the Planet of the Apes also seems to struggle to decide whether it wants to be a sequel or its own thing. We consistently have scenes like this, and exposition scenes about the past, but, like with the last two films, the majority of characters are new ones with no relation to the previous cast.
Overall, War for the Planet of the Apes was a great movie. It told an excellent story and, for the most part, managed to tell it well. It didn’t manage to detach itself very well from Rise or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and, as such, it isn’t as good as those two films. That being said, I still highly recommend you go see it because it is still a good time at the movies.