War for the Planet of the Apes closes out the saga on a high note, and cements it as possibly the most consistently good blockbuster trilogy ever created.
I mean, think about it. Pretty much every blockbuster trilogy stumbles by the third film. Back to the Future is one of my favorites precisely because of how consistent it is, but it still can't quite stick the landing with the third chapter (and even BTTF 2 trips over itself a bit). As iconic as the original Star Wars trilogy is, Jedi is a clear step down from the other two. Indiana Jones might be the only example where the third film is on par with the best, but as a trilogy it suffers due to Temple of Doom's exhausting stupidity and the existence of an unnecessary fourth film. The Dark Knight trilogy would have worked were it not for the third overstuffed chapter. The Matrix shits itself halfway through the second film. I could go on.
Enter the modern Planet of the Apes, a blockbuster trilogy that has consistently delivered with each entry. Every Apes film provides a good story well-told, is exciting, and features some truly impressive visual effects work that goes a long way toward telling this story faithfully and emotionally. War for the Planet of the Apes shakes off the third film blues that have come with virtually every other trilogy, and in some ways sits as the crown jewel of the franchise, continuing the trend of steadily improving and building upon the previous installment.
Picking up a few years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War finds our ape heroes fending off human soldiers led by the nameless Colonel (Woody Harrelson). After a particularly bad attack early in the film, Caesar leads a small group of apes toward the human base as a decoy to allow the rest to depart their home for a new place to live. All three films are Ape-flavored variations on familiar themes, and War continues that tradition, lovingly borrowing from epic historical dramas, war films, and biblical epics.
It’s a very sumptuous simian stew, elevated by its groundbreaking visual effects. Andy Serkis' work as Caesar will be (or at least should be) talked about for decades. Gollum was game-changing, but his turn as Caesar is a motion capture milestone. From Rise to War, his work, along with the talents of Weta, have served as a case study for how to marry heavy VFX with honest-to-god real human acting, They’ve all improved their craft from film to film, with Serkis bringing more nuance and heart to the role as it evolved, and Weta rendering that nuance with surgical precision. The CG in this film is really impressive, and this is coming from a guy whose tolerance for CG is about as low it gets.
Like the other films, the apes are much more human and fleshed out than the actual human characters. It's always felt like a shortcoming to me, although part of me wonders if this has been an intentional choice by Matt Reeves, treating the humans as most big films treat their secondary characters. Woody Harrelson does a fine job with what he's given, and even though he's not as interesting as any of the Apes, he still makes a formidable antagonist.
Overall, it's a great closing chapter to what has proven to be one of the strongest blockbuster trilogies ever made. Even though Dawn was a massive financial success, it does feel like War (and the trilogy as a whole) got lost in the Disney quagmire that is the modern multiplex, which is a shame since it seems to have everything modern audiences keep clamoring for apart from the portfolio of brands they're all enslaved to. Even if none of these films are as good or iconic as Back to the Future, A New Hope, or The Dark Knight (a tall order, to be sure), the consistent greatness of all three make me hope they get some healthy recognition someday, because they're certainly worthy of it.