War for the Planet of the Apes is a moderately solid ending for the Planet of the Apes prequel/reboot trilogy, but is weighed down by too many outstretched scenes and a disappointing antagonist.
The film opens years after Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, with Caesar (played by Andy Serkis via performance capture) and his tribe fighting for survival against Alpha-Omega, a military outfit lead by “the Colonel” (Woody Harrelson). After Alpha-Omega executes a particularly brutal attack against the apes, Caesar decides to abandon his normally merciful nature and goes on a quest for revenge against the Colonel.
The plot moves at a pretty decent pace during most of the first half and last quarter, but the build-up to the final battle feels like a slog. A few too many scenes crawled along or felt redundant, which had me checking my watch multiple times. I did feel like it was worth the wait once things picked up again though, especially when it led up to the film’s best action scene.
The majority of the action sequences were fantastic. From the quiet stalking in the ape’s caves, to the huge gunfight at a snow-covered weapons depot, the action was always intense. The very end of the final battle was a little much for me (I can’t say anything more without spoiling it), but everything else was spectacular.
Andy Serkis is easily the greatest actor to use performance capture (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the titular ape in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, etc) and his performance as Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes is without a doubt his best portrayal yet. This is a much older, worn down Caesar than the previous films, and it’s clear Serkis gives it his all during every scene he’s in.
While Serkis’ Caesar was undoubtedly the best part of War for the Planet of the Apes, there are a few other actors and actresses who also bring a great bit of character to the film with motion capture as well. Karin Konoval’s Maurice played well off of Caesar, being the most level-headed of the apes, and Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape was the source of almost all the comedic moments in the movie. I would’ve loved to see more of Ty Olsson’s Red, Terry Notary’s Rocket, and Michael Adamthwaite’s Luca because they were great in their few scenes as well.
Unfortunately, the human characters were nowhere near as enjoyable as the apes. Amiah Miller was the best of them as Nova. She had me tear up a bit at one point, but was ho-hum the rest of the movie. Preacher (Gabriel Chavarria) was incredibly bland. He had no character development, and never really seemed to add anything to the story. Also, I still have no idea why he only used a crossbow. It probably bugged me more than it should have, but I really had a hard time believing that a trained soldier would use something so obsolete (even in the middle of a gigantic firefight) without switching to any kind of sidearm. Aside from one scene, The Colonel was an utter disappointment. Harrelson’s talent can’t save a villain with such wasted screen-time (spent way too much of it doing mundane things or just looking angry), few lines, and an ending that you can see coming too easily.
In conclusion, War for the Planet of the Apes is a passable, but flawed movie. I really wanted to love it as much as its predecessors, but some staggered pacing and a mediocre villain keep it from that same level of greatness