Rise of the Planet of the Apes focused on the evolution of apes and their rise against the humans trying to keep them in captivity, while the follow-up Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (which saw Matt Reeves take over the director's chair from Rupert Wyatt) pitted the apes in a more aggressive manner, albeit one where they were simply defending their territory. War for the Planet of the Apes found Reeves now placing the punctuation mark on the monkey that started it all -- the leader known as Caesar.
In this film, we saw him not just as the creature all apes entrusted their safety to, but as a patriarch with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Now hunted by The Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson), Caesar had to contend with apes who sided with the humans (remnants of an uprising in the last film) and in dealing with the death of loved ones, he found an inner hatred, truly crafting a war between the species. What drove the humans was how the Simian Flu was causing them to devolve, giving us a character-driven battle for the planet. As a result, CBR decided to look at what worked and what didn't in the film!
SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for War for the Planet of the Apes
15 WORKED: THE WAR
Following Koba's revolution in Dawn, it felt as if the world was truly flipped on its head. His death at the hands of Caesar showed that apes were well and truly susceptible to politics, manipulation and revolution. This is what bred the turmoil in War, which gave way to apes fighting apes, apes fighting humans and also, humans fighting humans.
Due to the Simian Flu evolving, and all human lives being at stake again, it really was a fight to claim the planet. This pushed Koba's disciples to help slaughter apes in hopes of survival as the humans went after Caesar's tribe relentlessly. It became an issue where only the strong would survive and felt very much like real-world wars where people would do anything or side with anyone to emerge as winners. As the shot of a graffiti-painted wall read, it truly was "Ape-pocalyse Now!"
14 WORKED: ANDY SERKIS' PERFORMANCE
Somebody just give this man an Oscar nomination for Best Actor already! Serkis as Caesar has consistently wowed us and this film was no different. He delivered another Oscar-worthy performance where his lines were minimal and his emotions came down to his eyes. He was inspiring, virtuous and relatable in his quest for vengeance. In fact, he was more human than you'd expect, painting us a leader that makes fans wish Hollywood did Optimus Prime and Superman like him.
Serkis' vocal tone also matched his weathered and beaten disposition of a leader who was simply at the end of the line just trying to find a home for his people. He felt like Hugh Jackman in Logan a bit in terms of a hero who doesn't care to be a hero, but still wants peace for everyone. Serkis was a commander in the truest sense.
13 DIDN'T WORK: WORLD WASN'T EXPANSIVE
The franchise mainly dealt with San Francisco, with Muir Woods used as Caesar's base. However, something that would have been awesome to see in this movie was more of the outside world. We knew the virus was spreading globally and humans were turning into primitive creatures so we would have loved to see other cities in the USA being affected. Getting insight into how the humans were coping with the outbreak would have shown just how they perceived the apes.
Seeing the remaining humans either mounting other assaults, using science for cures or experimenting on both apes and other humans would have made sense. Also, witnessing society in other continents besides North America could have made the universe even more expansive. Diving deeper into the enemies of the Colonel or into the United Nations' response would have smartly shifted perspective from America to the world.
12 WORKED: THE MUSIC
Michael Giacchino returned after he worked on Dawn to score this film, continuing to remind geeks of the magic he can make after impressing on the likes of Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: Homecoming. What was interesting was how he riffed off the old tribal vibe from past movies and placed a new spin on the flutes and percussive beats in Reeves' concrete jungles. The result was a neo-tribal sound that paid homage to everything that came before but still managed to craft a whole new world.
His musical backdrop created a huge amount of tension (as seen when the Colonel killed Caesar's family) and built up even more suspense via an orchestral style (when the humans brought out the heavy artillery at the end). This ensured things dipped in between sci-fi and war (along the lines of Full Metal Jacket) while keeping an overall tone of drama.
11 WORKED: EVERYONE'S MOTIVES
Reeves really developed his villains to the fullest, stepping up what he already did with Koba and his revolt against Caesar's way of life. These new villains drew so much empathy as they all had reasons for wanting to try to kill each other. The Colonel wanted to kill the apes as their Simian Flu was now causing mankind to regress, while the apes who worked with him were anti-Caesar and were just trying to survive as the humans' servants.
As for Caesar, he had the ultimate motive in that he wanted to take out the Colonel for killing his family, and then he went into full kill-mode when he realized the humans were enslaving apes. He even admitted he felt like Koba due to his hatred. Genocide is never a good thing but somehow all these parties rationalized their actions.
10 DIDN'T WORK: LACKED PHYSICAL COMBAT
The first two movies had apes fighting, not like primitives, but like gladiators. Things culminated when we saw Caesar take down Koba but in this film, this primordial instinct of physical battle was sacrificed as everyone relied on weapons. The apes were all about spears and at times, guns. This was to combat the humans who were packing military gear but still, the hand-to-hand combat was an aspect of Reeves' vision that could have been brought back.
We got a glimpse of this with Rocket (Caesar's general) and Red (a gorilla disciple of Koba) throwing down and engaging in fisticuffs, but other than that, the lot of the action revolved around weapons of destruction. It's understood that the war was now elevated and that physical combat wouldn't cut it anymore, but still, ape combat feels so different and enjoyable.
9 WORKED: THE SPECIAL EFFECTS
Rupert Wyatt showed us how impressive and also, how immersive, the world's fate would be when humans went up against the apes. Reeves then prolonged this vision and when it came to the monkeys, let's just say they looked, felt and sounded so real that it made us look at the animals differently in the real world. These apes were created by WETA Digital by blending motion-capture and C.G.I. key-frame animation, and the result was impeccable, as expected.
The battle sequences, the interactions of humans and apes, and the depictions of all the creatures -- from Serkis' Caesar to Steve Zahn's Bad Ape -- left us in awe. The society, from adult to baby apes such as Cornelius, didn't even feel like a movie but like a documentary. That's how stellar WETA was regarding the task at hand.
8 WORKED: HUMOR
We didn't see much humor in the last film, but it was present in Rise as James Franco's Will Rodman brought Caesar up from a baby. This movie, though, surprisingly worked it back in nicely to humanize the apes even more. Much of the humor came with Zahn's Bad Ape as he showed how being isolated in a war sends you a bit crazy. He had quite a few LOL moments as he tried to help Caesar rescue his people.
There were also some subtle ones from Caesar's right-hand ape, Maurice, as he showed that as an adviser, he needed to illustrate to Caesar and Nova that something as small as a smile could light the darkest moments in life. Everything felt organic as these spots were littered here and there, and not overdone.
7 DIDN'T WORK: LACKED EXTERNAL APE TRIBES
One thing this movie missed was seeing rival ape factions. It would have been nice to hear about them from Caesar's first son, Bright Eyes, as he and Rocket explored America. Obviously, such new tribes exist and this is also a great direction the franchise can still explore. We understand that this film had to wrap Caesar's arc and also, how things devolved from Koba's mutiny, but we're certain that apes in South America or Europe exist with a different essence than the USA ones.
That's a whole different warrior's mentality, so with paradise found, we could deal with issues such as invaders domestically or from other countries. Cornelius (Caesar's younger son) may lead next time around so handling migrants and refugees is also another topic of interest and as we saw, not all apes are friends. Different societies with different leaders would make for a strong dynamic moving forward.
6 WORKED: NOVA AS A MORAL COMPASS
Nova was a character Reeves brought back from the old franchise and in this case, she was a stray human that Caesar's team picked up en route to kill the Colonel. Caesar was bitter towards humanity after his wife and elder son was killed but bit by bit, she reminded him of the good in mankind. Not only was she Maurice's adopted daughter, but the bond she shared with Luca was evident as she mourned his death.
It came full circle when she broke into the Colonel's compound, risking her safety to feed and provide water to a captive Caesar. He realized how wrong he was to hate all humans and Nova also ended up helping the other apes escape the prison. Amiah Miller's performance as Nova was all the more impressive given she was a mute seemingly affected by the virus, adding deep sentimentality to the film.
5 WORKED: THE THEME OF FAMILY
The meaning of family played a big part and it bookended the sense of togetherness that was embedded in Caesar since Rise. But with these attachments, and thus love, comes loss which was at the core of everyone's pain: Caesar lost his family and so he went out for revenge. Sadly, it almost came at the expense of his bigger family -- all of his apes. Nova also lost hers and as a result, she latched onto the the apes as her new family. They showed us home wasn't a place but the people you're with.
This allowed Reeves to properly develop amazing characters and he even stitched family into the Colonel's story, making you empathize with him. His son contracted the virus and devolved, which led to him killing the lad. Hearing this backstory was tragic as he didn't want anyone else to endure what he did.
4 DIDN'T WORK: THE COLONEL'S DEATH
Now don't get us wrong, we sympathized with the Colonel but we wanted him to really suffer for killing Caesar's wife, Cornelia, and Bright Eyes. When the Colonel's human enemies brought the fire down on his army in the film's climax, Caesar ushered his people to safety but went back to get his kill. When he found the Colonel, the villain was ironically regressing into a primitive state and Caesar offered him mercy.
He had the Colonel's gun but decided to allow him the chance at suicide, which he took. We get that this was Caesar being the good guy, but the Colonel had killed hundreds of apes and showed no remorse over killing our hero's family. Even if it wasn't Caesar killing him, it would have been karma if Reeves let his own humans put him down, showing apes really were above them on the new chain of evolution.
3 WORKED: THE REDEMPTION SONG
Redemption was another big theme here and surprisingly, Caesar had some atoning to do. His selfish lust for vengeance led to his apes being imprisoned and no matter what, even after rescuing them, he couldn't let go of his murderous vendetta against the Colonel. However, freeing them and taking them to the promised land (a new forested area) allowed him to make up for things in a redemptive arc that kicked off with him not killing the Colonel.
He also redeemed himself by accepting Nova as family, thereby reestablishing his connection with humanity and losing the parts of himself that were Koba-like. Also, the gorilla Red (who was basically the Colonel's ape for torture) shocked us by actually helping Caesar at the end just when it seemed the wicked humans would triumph. He finally realized the apes deserved better and gave his life for it.
2 WORKED: POLITICAL MESSAGES
Apart from the overarching message of war, where one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, we saw parallels drawn to slavery when the Colonel had the apes enslaved and whipped to build his fortress. We also witnessed the Colonel and his army in a Nazi-esque regiment that resembled a concentration camp. The Colonel also came off like a skinhead, quoting scripture conveniently and then basking in violence while the American anthem played.
The apes ironically escaped via something that resembled the underground railroad from the history books and during this scene we saw Caesar slide down a burning USA flag. It may have been a straight-out strike at the current political climate because America was back in a civil war. Overall, the audience felt the deep messages without things coming off too preachy. Seeing the apes as refugees looking for a new home in peace also resonated a lot.
1 DIDN'T WORK: CAESAR'S DEATH
On paper it sounds profound and emblematic but in the film, Caesar went through so much pain that you wanted a happy ending with his people in paradise. He fought so hard, lost most of his family, suffered through slavery and faced betrayal. This came from his own apes such as Koba, Red and Winter, and then we saw the blow that killed him coming from Preacher (a soldier that he showed mercy earlier).
Caesar's fate was cruel and unjust. To watch him keel over and die next to Maurice, even if it was peacefully, didn't feel right. It made us tear up because we didn't want him as a martyr. He should have started the next chapter for the apes, mentoring Cornelius and using Nova to bridge the gap with the remaining humans. At least he left an unforgettable mark for everyone to remember.
Let us know in the comments what worked and didn't work for you in War for the Planet of the Apes!