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  • Rev Horror

War for the Planet of the Apes

Dir. Matt Reeves (2017)

After a group of human soldiers cause catastrophic losses in the ape compound, Caesar sets out on a quest to make things right as he struggles with his desire for vengeance.

Through the first eight films, the Planet of the Apes franchise has been at times devoted to its sociopolitical message and at others attempting to appeal to the baser film fan instincts of non-stop action and heartfelt emotional pull. The best of both worlds has largely come together in this new iteration of the series, and while the most recent films have been a little lighter on the message than their predecessors, there is still a lot to unpack. The battle between the humans and the apes is one of survival, and the differing views on that goal, and how best to achieve it, characterize not only the films but our greater society in general. More on that in a minute.

War once again follows the story of Caesar (Andy Serkis), who has established a colony of apes in the forest that largely keeps to themselves but is once again confronted with humans who are not content with leaving them alone. After a human military mission results in the deaths of people close to Caesar, he sends his group of apes to safety while trying to seek revenge on his own. The group is captured by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and his men, and when Caesar stumbles onto the group, he's captured as well. But there is more afoot than just ape slavery, as he shortly learns that there is another military heading towards the encampment, and the apes are just about to be caught in the middle of an enormous battle between the surviving humans.

Part jailbreak film and part science fiction/action saga, War of the Planet of the Apes is the most emotional film of the series. New characters and their backstories hit you right in the feels, and Caesar's loss is felt deeply throughout the entire film. There is still plenty of ape mischief, of course, but it largely takes a backseat to the poignant stories of love, loyalty, and peace-through-war that have long been mainstays of the series. The action scenes are excellent, of course, a staple of the modern entries in the franchise, and Harrelson's Colonel is perhaps the most hateable villain yet. The entire series is built upon humans who deserve their fate, which should be no surprise to anyone watching, because humans are just the fucking worst.That said, this is a much more dramatic film than the others, and it's not quite as edge-of-your-seat thrilling as the previous entries.

That is really the overarching theme of the entire franchise. Hard times make hard people, but there is a better way. The more recent entries are also about how its not a group that makes people bad, but the choices made by individuals that determine their overall sense of right and wrong. There are good apes and bad apes, good people and bad people. There are just punishments, and mercy is not a weakness. It's all relatively simple and straightforward, and once the franchise moved past its original, more in-depth-psychologically beginnings, it's Disney-level morality tales. Granted, it's done particularly well: there are several scenes in War that might well bring a tear to your eyes. But it is, ultimately, the type of moral lessons that you're supposed to learn in kindergarten.

War of the Planet of the Apes is good, but it definitely feels like a filler film. It's a movie to get us from Dawn to the upcoming Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes and beyond. It's the Empire Strikes Back of the series, though it definitely doesn't reach the heights and import of the "best" Star Wars movie. It's a bridge film, despite the fact that the events that occur will likely have an enormous impact on the rest of the series. Hopefully, Kingdom will pick up the ball and run with it, because the series is a long way from having its story concluded.

I began the Planet of the Apes film wanting to watch them just because I hadn't seen them before. I'm hardly a science fiction guy, and I generally find the "scientific advancements" and the heavyhanded messaging behind some of the genre's staple films to be eye rolling at best. To be honest, I didn't even expect this was something that I'd even care to review for the site. The series was a pleasant surprise, a really well-made franchise with few low points and some truly stunning films in its repertoire. The apes and their world are fascinating, whether its the old-school, terrifying-in-concept civilization created in the 60's and 70's or the new-school apes-are-the-better-species action flicks of today. I fully expected to hate these movies, and I came away a fan. And now I'm just excited to watch the next one.

Who this movie is for: Science fiction fans, Action movie lovers, Howler monkeys with hearts of gold

Bottom line: War for the Planet of the Apes is not the best film in the franchise, but it may be the first to make you cry. It's still an excellent film, a well-made and well-acted flick that helps move the story forward and one with a ton of memorable scenes. It's a bizarre blend of genre, though, with a good portion of the film feeling like a mix between Apocalypse Now and Escape from Alcatraz. While this one likely won't be your favorite of the series, it's still definitely worth a look, and you can stream this one (and the entire series) on Hulu. You might want to give them a look, especially since the new film will be in theaters this week.

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