Led by the brutal Colonel (Woody Harrelson) the last remnants of humanity look to save their species and destroy the apes, before the apes win the war and take over. The war heavily hits Caesar as he loses something dear to him which sends him on the path of revenge.
The DVD release of Planet of the Apes is infamous for slapping the Statue of Liberty right on the front of the cover, giving away one the biggest plot twists in the history of cinema. Everyone knows the ending so what the original movie does is give the prequels something to aim for and craft their story to fit a climax we know will come to pass. Yet despite the inevitable conclusion the tension is not alleviated as the tension is drawn from the when and how and not the if. What the whole trilogy does spectacularly well, and War for the Planet of the Apes rounds off the trilogy nicely, is still make the story interesting despite knowing the conclusion, it doesn’t really rely on the destination but the journey to get there.
It’s an exciting journey as throughout the prequel trilogy the films were dark and mature for a typical modern blockbuster. The series certainly got steadily darker, culminating with the final film where the apes were subjected to conditions not greatly dissimilar to a Concentration Camp (the final scenes in Okja is a recent and viable comparison to what see in the final Apes movie). Because we spend the majority of the film viewing the war from the apes’ point of view these scenes have a large impact and even though we get to learn about their society and way of life at the expense of developed human characters it does become the main emotional draw of the film.
The decision to view the war of the apes point of view (a decision taken during the Matt Reeves directed second film) is of paramount importance to the success of the franchise as a whole, but the fact the GCI apes are so state of the art and utterly convincing that they don’t break the idea that this isn’t reality is equally important. You fully believe that they are actual apes and the way the technology captures the ape’s emotions gives them almost human like qualities which helps garner empathy for their plight (even though human like qualities isn’t always strictly necessary to evoke empathy). Andy Serkis, who plays Ceasar, is stunning as a war worn general whose hope for peaceful habitation with humans is slowly eroded by constant violence between man and ape.
Even in the first film, the biggest problem was the human characters, it’s an issue here once again as the human characters aren’t greatly fleshed out. However, it really doesn’t hinder a mature, dark, and sometimes quite violent mainstream film.