Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

Caesar, with a rifle and Nova behind his back, on a horse with the film's logo and "Witness the End July 14" at the bottom.

The third installment in the latest Planet of the Apes series has come out, and the world has only gotten darker. By the time of War for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar, the genetically modified chimpanzee ruler of the apes, has been fighting a long war with the human survivors of the great plague that wiped out civilization. Now, a brutal human leader known only as the Colonel has found the apes’ hideout and is moving in for a final strike.

That’s how the story starts, but there’s a lot more to it—a complex plot, many references to other films, and thought-provoking questions raised about the difference between human and animal. Overall, I’d say it’s maybe not as good as the first film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but better than the second, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and well worth watching.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Spoilers below.

The ruined world of War is a grim place. The only humans we really see are soldiers, part of the rogue faction, Alpha Omega. They have defectors from the ape community acting as servants and informants to help them find Caesar’s colony, and the Colonel is readying a final strike. In a raid, he shoots Caesar’s wife and son, mistaking them for Caesar himself. In response, Caesar evacuates the colony, but he and his top lieutenants set out for revenge.

On their travels, Caesar and his lieutenants stumble upon a human child who is unable to speak. His most trusted adviser, Maurice the orangutan, insists on taking her with them. It is eventually revealed that the same plague that wiped out most of the human species has mutated and is now robbing the survivors of their speech. The Colonel claims that it is also reducing them to animals, causing them to lose their higher faculties, but I feel like this may be him being an unreliable narrator. The few infected people we see on screen, while mute, don’t act particularly impaired.

Meanwhile, Caesar discovers that in his absence, the rest of the colony was captured and imprisoned at Alpha Omega’s headquarters, where they are being used as slaves to build a wall to keep out the other humans who disagree with the Colonel’s brutal method of dealing with the plague. After this disaster, Caesar and his friends must stage a breakout under the Colonel’s nose.

This movie is a story well-told, which is good by itself, but what really put it over the top for me were the Biblical references sprinkled throughout. This was not a direct nod to the Bible, as the writers have said they were inspired by a number of classic films, including The Great Escape, The Bridge on the River Quai, Ben-Hur, and The Ten Commandments. But even so, the Biblical references really stood out at the end, from the freeing of the slaves to the avalanche destroying the human army (parting the Red Sea) to the exodus to the Promised Land. This culminates in the the final scene depicting Caesar as Moses on the mountaintop, which makes for a beautiful, moving conclusion to the trilogy.

About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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