‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Is a Victorious End to the Trilogy

As “War for the Planet of the Apes” closes the rebooted “Apes” trilogy on a high note, Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) dark instincts begin to show as they become necessary to defend his own kind against the human race, lead by Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson).

While Harrelson provides a fine performance as an “Apocalypse Now” type military leader, true attention goes to Serkis, whose digitally captured performance as Caesar the ape should challenge any negative preconceived notion about CGI performances. Serkis, who has previously dawned iconic digital performances as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” franchise and “King Kong” in Peter Jackson’s 2005 retelling, among others, has the innate ability to capture well-rounded emotion for his character. He impressively maintains a realistic animal-like posture that remains faithful to the creature he is portraying without ever becoming a caricature.

“War” could have simply been another summer popcorn movie, but Serkis’ stellar performance paired with Matt Reeves’ strong direction elevate it to something greater. Reeves, who also picked up a writing credit this time around, and additionally helmed the predecessor, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” presents his most confident film to date. He demonstrates a masterful balance between tension, action and emotion without ever sacrificing beautiful presentation.

Set several years after “Dawn,” it is hard to watch “War of the Planet of the Apes” and not draw a comparison to our modern society. “War,” in every sense of the way, provides a stark look at human nature – especially during the ruthless and unapologetic times of war. Luckily, the film is not all-serious business. The character of Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) is a welcomed addition to the “Apes” canon, as he filters in just the perfect amount of humor and laughs that lift the film at all the right moments.

As is the case with many Hollywood summer blockbusters, the runtime befits that of a western epic – and this is perhaps the film’s greatest, and really only fault. Clocking in at 140 minutes, the film could have been slightly tighter by chopping off about 15 minutes during the second act – which feels like a slight drag at times. But the amazing special effects quickly forgive any shortcomings where the story might slightly lull.

The rebooted “Planet of the Apes” trilogy, which consists of 2011’s “Rise,” 2014’s “Dawn,” and this year’s “War,” was never about the humans, as much as it was about following the story of Caesar the ape. With a tagline like, “witness the end” one would assume that “War” concludes the franchise – and in a sense it does. This is the final chapter for Caesar, a character whose arc traces across all three films.

“War” holds a high-water mark for any final entry in a trilogy. If the rebooted “Apes” franchise were to end with “War,” it would surely go out on top. Whether or not Fox will choose to continue with the saga has yet to be confirmed. But a new bar has indeed been set.

War for the Planet of the Apes” opens in theaters July 14.