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War for the Planet of the Apes had a lot of weight on its shoulders going into production. After two successful flicks, this was going to be the movie that decided how the franchise will be remembered. Will it be rank among film’s greatest trilogies – a rarity – or will it be another trilogy that started strong but couldn’t close the deal? Thankfully, War sticks the landing by masterfully blending its two genres, sci-fi and war fiction.

Balancing those two genres is really what sets this installment apart from its predecessors; director Matt Reeves straddles the line with ease. After the first two Planet of the Apes films, the sh*t is finally hitting the fan hard for the simians. Caesar, played by Andy Serkis in an Oscar-worthy turn, is visibly older and hardened. He and his troops are trying to live peacefully in the woods, but war comes knocking on their door. Once again the apes are forced into a confrontation, but this time the stakes feel much higher.

war for the planet of the apes

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We get a battle right off the bat, and it sets the tone for everything that comes after. It reeks of Vietnam; a jungle fight with guerrilla warfare (or “gorilla warfare” if you like obvious puns). Reeves drives the point home by evoking classic Vietnam films like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. The human soldiers graffiti their helmets. Later in the film, the apes even come across a wall with the words “APE-POCALYPSE NOW” sprawled across it. World War II is also called to mind mid-narrative with concentration camps and stormtrooper marches. By paying homage to these classics, Reeves recalls a specific atmosphere in the audience’s mind. It’s grim and gritty. We immediately sympathize with the protagonists, forced into a war that they want nothing to do with like many of those young men in Platoon.

war for the planet of the apes

War isn’t a big action movie, ironically. It’s actually a very deep personal story for Caesar. He’s facing an internal struggle that he needs to come to grips with, lest he become the very thing he’s been fighting for so long. But because Reeves sets up that Vietnam-tone early on, it carries through and makes the drama that much more impactful.

Also enhancing the drama is how the filmmakers honor the sci-fi films of the 60s and 70s. War opens with blocks of text meant to bridge the gap since the last film, much like the crawl from those movies about a galaxy far, far away. Later, Caesar and company riding horseback across the beach (a frame-worthy shot) brings the original Planet of the Apes to mind. And the score by Michael Giacchino is a hauntingly beautiful callback to the films of the era as well (definitely worth saving the album on Spotify). Again, by reminding the audience of these films, War is recalling very specific themes.

Those OG sci-fi films were about freedom, and about surviving in a dying world – usually a world dying by humanity’s own hand. They were cautionary tales. The first two modern Apes films were cautionary tales as well, but War is the one that really drives the point home. It’s the apes during their darkest hour and Caesar struggling with his own humanity. It’s the one that says, “it’s easy to let fear and anger take over. But if we’re going to save the world, we need to do better – no matter how hard that is.”

war for the planet of the apes

War for the Planet of the Apes may be the best of this trilogy. It’s dark and serious, but still thrilling and entertaining. There are apes with guns on horseback, which you know you want. It’ll stand among the best war films of the decade, and it’s a picture-perfect model for what sci-fi is supposed to stand for.

War for the Planet of the Apes hits theaters July 14, 2017.

Anthony Composto - EIC
Editor-in-Chief for Monkeys Fighting Robots. A lifelong fan of Spider-Man and the Mets, Anthony loves an underdog story. He earned his B.A. in English because of his love for words, and his MBA because of his need for cash. He considers comics to be The Great American Art Form, and loves horror movies, indie dramas, action/thrillers, and everything in between.
review-war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes'War for the Planet of the Apes' is the perfect mix of science and war fiction. It evokes and pays homage to the classics that inspire it, while putting its own spin on things and feeling wholly original. Brilliant performances from the whole cast bolster an engrossing story, and now I can't wait for Matt Reeves to take on direction for 'The Batman'.