War for the Planet of the Apes is the third and presumably final film of the rebooted Planet of the Apes film series. Its 2011 original was a surprising success, considering the Tim Burton-Mark Wahlberg collaboration in 2001 was so-so at best. This update is darker and comes with a story that’s balanced and emotional. Matt Reeves, who directed the 2014 follow-up Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, again serves as director and has improved upon the original each time out. In War, the series comes full circle for our simian protagonist, Caesar (Andy Serkis), as he continues to lead and protect his extended family from humans hell-bent on destroying them in order to preserve mankind as the dominant species.

Before I continue, it’s become painfully obvious that Serkis, although not physically visible, has consistently been fabulous as Caesar. His performance throughout the series is one to be emulated since he is able to balance a myriad of emotions in order to connect with audiences. Both Dawn and War are told from Caesar’s perspective which, despite that risky decision, has paid off handsomely as Serkis confidently showcases his range. He should be considered for an Oscar but he can’t due to a mere technicality (which ironically involves modern tech).

That being said, War depicts Caesar at his most emotional. In Dawn, Caesar was seen as intelligent and calculated, and each of his choices was made with thought and precision. But a military faction known as the Alpha-Omega invaded the hidden home of Caesar’s clan and their leader, known simply as the Colonel (played magnificently by Woody Harrelson), murders Cornelia (Judy Greer) and Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones), Caesar’s wife and eldest son. With this occurring on the eve of the clan’s pilgrimage to a new home, Caesar makes the impulsive decision to leave the group and seek out the Colonel for revenge. Caesar reluctantly allows Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) to join him in his efforts.

Caesar’s quest for vengeance harkens back to the previous film as his rival, Koba (Toby Kebbell), opposed Caesar’s efforts for peace with humans and was responsible to starting the war between the species. Koba’s influence is evident as Caesar comes to realize that his actions are based on his heart and not his head. His leadership comes in question as leaving the tribe for revenge is seen as selfish. But it’s this complication that adds to a complex character, something that is odd (but welcome) in a summer blockbuster. It’s this depth that has audiences both intrigued and compelled by what is essentially a digital being. It’s this type of moviemaking which makes blockbusters an event worth watching, and we have Reeves (who also served as co-writer) and Serkis to thank for that.

Also worth mentioning is the appearance of Nova (Amiah Miller), a young mute girl whose condition is part of the film’s bigger plot. The group finds her in an abandoned village and brings her with them after they realize they killed her father. It isn’t immediately revealed her purpose (outside of the idea that Caesar and his tribe aren’t savages), but she is used to display a characteristic which Alpha-Omega, and humans in general, lack – compassion. It’s a theme that arises throughout and allows audiences to side more with the apes.

As comic relief, the group is accompanied by Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a zoo chimp who lives as a hermit after he survived the viral outbreak.

With a running time of 140 minutes, War does have its slow moments. But Reeves displays plenty of patience so that his themes and ideas are firmly established before this film’s story can move along. That patience lends itself to the idea that this feature is a more personal story for Reeves. Its themes are relatable and could serve as a possible cautionary tale for us, since it seems increasingly difficult nowadays for people with differing opinions and mindsets to find rational and peaceful resolutions.

Messages like this are the reason why this Planet of the Apes series is one of the best trilogies in film. It displays a perfect balance of drama, depth and spectacle, fully incorporates incredible special effects to support the story (and not make the story), and is simply entertaining. War is the perfect finale and its final act is as poignant and moving as any Oscar winner. This is a must-see, is likely the best offering of the summer, and possibly one of the year’s best films.

4.5 stars out of 5

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