The Planet of the Apes reboot series has never generated the type of attention that most summer blockbusters receive. Perhaps it’s because the merchandise is so reserved (no karate chop Cesar action figure?). Maybe it’s too grim. Or maybe  because it’s simply not as glamourous as super heroes or wizards. The last two installments were box office and critical hits yet public excitement for future installments remained modest at best.

Whatever the reason, War for the Planet of the Apes reminds us that the series stands out as one of the most inventive and astonishing franchises in recent movie history. With a poignant story and ground breaking special effects, War for the Planet of the Apes is not only of the year’s best but completes a powerful trilogy.

Cloverfield and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director, Matt Reeves, returns in the third and possible final installment of Apes. Reeves proves that he is one of the best directors working in the industry (Perhaps there is hope for Batman). Motion capture maestro, Andy Serkis returns as Cesar, the head honcho of the ape revolution. The war between apes and man is in full motion and Cesar just wants peace for his family and comrades. His mission is to get the apes to a distant area of the world where they will be safe from humans and war. His journey is halted by the ruthless trigger happy Colonel devilishly played by Woody Harrelson. Many apes are abruptly captured and killed which force a vengeful Cesar to confront the Colonel in order to free the prisoners.

The franchise has done a great balancing act by embracing the original movies but never feeling repetitive. This is especially tricky when a Planet of the Apes reboot originally seemed silly and possibly disastrous. But the storytelling has always been rich and complex drizzled with an apocalyptic, dark tone. In War for the Apes, the movie melds sub-genres like heist films, westerns, and even biblical epics yet it never steers away from the science fiction lens. There are certainly inspirations from The Great Escape and Ben Hur and it’s a thrilling fusion. Although at times it seems like Cesar has been down this road before, it’s still an entertaining and immersive experience.

The fact that this series has never won an Oscar for best visual effects is a crime. The effects from the last two installments were impressive but the third movie has changed the game. The apes in the movie are some of the most life-like and detailed CGI creatures to ever to hit the big screen. The eyes are alive and there’s weight to the bodies. It’s astonishing wizardry that deserves high praise. The visual effects team pulled off an impressive feat by using their tools to create a marvelous spectacle rather than a gimmick. The apes are the stars of the movie and they are on screen almost every minute of the over two-hour feature. The painstaking process of crafting CG armies and lead characters is recognized and it’s some outstanding work.

Andy Serkis is terrific as always and Woody Harrelson is a fiendish adversary that makes for a compelling standoff. But the biggest scene stealer is Steve Zahn. Yes, Steve Zhan from Strange Wilderness and Sahara. He plays an ape know as, well, Bad Ape and he is a much-needed comedic relief in a rather grim movie. And even a comedic character like Bad Ape is written with depth. All the characters are written well- and that’s maybe the most important reason why the movie works. They all have motives, desires, and fears which drive an entertaining and dark movie to a satisfying end. Reeves and his team have pulled off a smart and riveting third feature to the Planet of the Apes archive that completes an underrated trilogy.

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