Sequels coming out of Hollywood are a terribly mixed bag, with most falling far short of their original installment. Far more rare than a well-made sequel is a well-made third entry into a series (Rise of the Machines, Alien 3, Superman 3, Iron Man 3, just to name a few). 20th Century Fox has actually done something that few would have expected after Tim Burton's horrendous 2001 Planet of the Apes: they rebooted the entire concept and came up with the most successful re-imaginings since Ronald D. Moore brought back Battlestar Galactica.
War for the Planet of the Apes is another solid entry, and is arguably better even than the second entry, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Taking place two years after the events in Dawn, Caesar and his community of apes are still engaged in a defensive war against the humans. They've been pulling ever further back into the forests while still being hounded by the remaining humans. Woody Harrelson plays The Colonel, leader of the human forces in the region. The Colonel and his followers are driven by the fear that if the apes are allowed to live, they will eventually overwhelm the remaining few humans. Some of the apes who had followed the rebellious and aggressive ape Koba in Dawn have fled their own community and become "donkeys" for the humans, acting as trackers and slaves.
Caesar (Andy Serkis) still leads the apes, along with the massive orangutan Maurice (played by Karin Konoval). Pushed by the Colonel, Caesar decides to uproot the entirety of his community once word of a desert oasis comes back from a long-range scouting party. Before they can leave, an attack from the human drives Caesar to speed up the migration, and sets him on a path of revenge on the Colonel.
The character CGI on the apes blends and their levels of ability to emote through the renders continues to be nothing short of amazing. The first film in the trilogy was solid to begin with, and now everything that Serkis performs through his expressions still exists cleanly on Caesar's face.
Newcomer and self-named Bad Ape, played by Steve Zahn, gives a performance stunning enough to go toe-to-toe with Serkis. Giving the occasional brief smile from a character's wit, who is himself another grim and lonely survivor, his own slight madness is played with a lightness and grace. It would have been nice to have gotten this from Harrelson's Colonel, who is drawn as more of a standard power and vengeance-driven military madman.
War for the Planet of the Apes is very much a war story, a dirty and gritty affair, blended with a prison film. The characters battling in both cases for what they believe to be their own versions of humanity. Caesar fighting for the right to live, and the Colonel fighting in an "us or them" belief. The early part of the year has had no lack of stellar movies, with Logan, Wonder Woman, and Get Out, and this is definitely near the top of that list.
Check out War for the Planet of the Apes in theaters July 14th.