It’s rare that we see a franchise neatly wrapped up with a silver bow. Because of the raving popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, most movies in a multi-film franchise end with an open-ended cliffhanger that guarantees sequels. War for the Planet of the Apes presents a refreshing trend that concludes Caesar’s story with a grand sci-fi tale.
War continues the battle between the apes and the last vestiges of humanity. The battle-weary Caesar decides to quit the war and lead his apes to a more peaceful existence beyond the battlefield. For reasons of his own, The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) chases down Caesar’s tribe and enslaves them to bolster his own fortress.
Unlike what it says on the tin, War does not portray war in the same sense as most Hollywood blockbusters. Ironically, despite its lack of over-the-top ballistics, War portrays war more empathically and intensely. Besides two critical battle scenes, most of War consists of Caesar’s own struggles as a leader. War is personal. Instead of wowing the audience with explosive technological capabilities, writing and characterization takes center stage.
Take note that this a film starring apes who can barely talk. Dialogue is limited to grunts, sign language, and body language (commandeered by the convincing Andy Serkis as Caesar). It’s engaging. You’re not being spoon-fed all the details. You have to think for yourself. And that’s rewarding. War is our occasional reminder that even silence can be poignant.
Its mastery of communications lends to the film’s strong characters. I care for Caesar’s plights, even if you’re not an avid follower of the previous prequels. In fact, War pulls off exposition masterfully—short recap text in the beginning and one exposition scene. Still, I was never lost. Each characters’ goals and personalities are easily readable. War comes off as a believable and independent story.
Caesar’s supporting cast have moments of their own. They have their own personalities. Maurice, Caesar’s wise adviser, adopts an abandoned human girl and acts as a foil to Caesar’s oozing bravado. Rocket and Luca aren’t just generic followers, but leaders with their own intellect and motivations. Even newcomer Bad Ape provides much needed comic relief to an otherwise emotionally taxing movie.
To top it all off, War neatly concludes the trilogy. The story that Rise started was one that could be easily tied down to three movies—a beginning, a middle, and an end. War doesn’t play with the audience with cliffhangers and open endings. While a fourth film is certainly possible, Caesar’s story is done. It’s a fitting farewell to this generation’s alpha ape. Whichever way the series goes from here, director Matt Reeves did the reboots their due justice.