Against all odds, the "rebooted" Planet of the Apes movies have become some of Hollywood's most pleasant surprises. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, in particular, built on its predecessor's themes of animal rights and the morality of subjugation while turning the excitement up to 11, creating the rare action movie with a message.
War for the Planet of the Apes (henceforth known as WftPotA) serves as the inevitable end to this trilogy, and it takes the story to its logical conclusion: the apes fight for their home. It features more excellent motion-capture work from Andy Serkis and Karin Konoval, along with a much-needed dose of levity from Steve Zahn's Bad Ape. Unfortunately, that's about all it does right.
Caesar (Serkis) is again the focal point; he's still commanding a largely reluctant ape army against their human aggressors, led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). When the Colonel's troops find the ape base and harms Caesar's family, the head ape sets out on a revenge quest that threatens everything he's worked to build.
In Dawn, we bounced between the apes; the Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Kodi Smit-McPhee gang; and Gary Oldman's ape-fearing collective. It gave us every side of the story: the apes struggling to survive, several humans who try to understand their plight, and a terrified, not-actually-that-evil group that just wants to stay alive. In WftPotA, everything is through the eyes of Caesar and his apes. Serkis is brilliant at conveying mo-cap emotion, and Caesar has become a remarkably deep character. But without the human interplay, writer-director Matt Reeves and his co-writer Mark Bomback lose what made the first two movies interesting. It becomes what I wrongly derided the first one as being: a monkey movie.
Also, though I try not to spoil the story in my reviews, WftPotA suffers so greatly from a poorly told plot contrivance that it's impossible to avoid here. If you've yet to see the film, look away. You've probably already surmised that I'm not a fan.
So: Harrelson's Colonel loathes not only the apes but also any of his soldiers that've been infected with a mutated version of the simian virus from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This new virus turns humans "primitive," which basically means they're no longer able to speak. The Colonel has no qualms about killing the infected, including his own son, to protect humanity.
You can guess what happens from there: the Colonel becomes infected himself. But the entire endeavor feels forced; depicting the humans as arbitrary receptors of the virus renders them irrelevant, especially when the same result could've been achieved by having them unconsciously choose to regress to an ape-like state. Rather than become infected, the flimsier among them could've lost faith in humanity and sought to be more like the enemies that they so feared. Then, when the Colonel also gives in, you realize that he's not insane so much as weak and scared.
Instead, the Colonel is just a crazy person and the virus is just a device to move us toward the conclusion. Much like The Dark Knight Rises and other needless threequels, WftPotA feels like a movie born out of financial necessity and an overall desire to "complete" a trilogy, not a story that needed to be told. Reeves and his crew have done the lord's work with this franchise overall, but whatever deal they made with the devil has run out.