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Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans, led by a ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson). After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet. (From Fox’s official synopsis)

 War for the Planet of the Apes
Six years later and I still can’t believe that a moderately-budgeted remake of the best and darkest Planet of the Apes movie – one that hinged on still-experimental special effects processes – became a big enough hit to reboot the franchise. I love that it happened and that this reboot franchise spawned even better movies, but it still seems so very unlikely. For those that didn’t already know, Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) reimagined the ape-slave dystopia of J. Lee Thompson’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) as a contemporary, ape-centric character study. This unusual beginning opened the door to further remakes/reimaginings, including new versions of the worst parts of the original Planet of the Apes series, namely Thompson’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) and the 14-episode television series that followed. Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) continued the mature and thoughtful precedent for the human/ape wars and surpassed its predecessor in terms of raw story structure and action, while also matching the emotional core that set Conquest and Rise apart. But Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was also designed to be a middle chapter of a trilogy (or possibly even a longer series) and lacked a sense of closure. It was only half of the Battle for the Planet of the Apes remake we were promised. The onus was on Reeves to deliver a satisfying finale to the most unlikely popular franchise of the decade.

War for the Planet of the Apes builds upon the real-world themes of the first two films and continues delving into the moral ambiguity of cultural wars. It continues asking its audience to identify strongly with the apes (something that once felt truly unique and unusual) without completely dismissing the humans, while also introducing wrinkles to the ape/human dynamic. The metaphor is open-ended enough that the audience can apply to their own political beliefs, even though I’m pretty sure the filmmakers intended every one of their conspicuous allusions to American exceptionalism, slavery, and the Holocaust (there’s also something relevant about that wall the humans are forcing the apes to build, I just can’t put my finger on it…). The writers draw some aspects of its story from Battle for the Planet of the Apes, namely the concepts of traitorous apes and humans making their last stand, but keeps to the tone of its post-millennial predecessors (not to mention that the same themes were used for Dawn). Generally, where the original series embraced camp and pulp, the reboot series opts for unabashed melodrama. Both choices run the risk of alienating the stodgier viewers in the house, but the new movies have managed to avoid crossing the line into self-parody.

 War for the Planet of the Apes
The new film’s problems tie back to the fact that the last movie felt sort of incomplete. Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback sometimes struggle to differentiate certain narrative arcs, leaving some scenes and characters feeling redundant in the context of an entire trilogy. Yet there’s still plenty of new information. The most interesting new elements pertain to the more peaceful side of the dying human world. In the last movie, there were merely two camps – one ape, one human, but, this time, we are introduced to the idea that some humans are eking out a life outside of the virulent anti-ape crusaders. In turn, some apes have joined up with the humans, though mostly as slaves, while others have remained completely untouched by Caesar’s influences. We finally have a real sense of the scope of the viral outbreak that threatens to make apes the planet’s apex species (plural implied), but haven’t sacrificed the intimate, character-driven storytelling. I quite enjoyed the quieter, melancholic scenes, even as they shamelessly tugged my heartstring with cute supporting characters. Much to my surprise, I found myself a little disappointed when the film settled back into its bleaker, politically-minded, and action-oriented rut. Reeves portrays ambiguity and cruelty quite well, of course (his attempts at comic relief tend to fall flat) – I just found myself more intrigued by the bigger ideas not already covered in the other seven Planet of the Apes movies. Perhaps the real issue isn’t that any of the filmmakers’ instincts are wrong, but that there’s too much going on to fully explore all of it in a single film.

Another of War for the Planet of the Apes’ key distinctions is that the shaky truce between the species that was present throughout the last movie has been thoroughly shattered and brutality reigns. One of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ greatest strengths was the way it teetered on the brink of major violence. The suspense was driven by the threat of genocidal war – something both sides of the conflict wanted to avoid. This time, the war is in full swing and, as so often happens with big-budget cinema, the carnage can be numbing. The filmmakers offset the issue by mitigating the ‘fun’ aspects of the violence. Occasionally, the audience is permitted to thrill at the victory of a well-executed counterattack, but we’re mostly expected to cringe at the ugliness of battle. From a purely technical standpoint, Reeves and company have taken another step up from the already impressive designs, special effects, and action choreography. It seems less likely that the special effects have made a huge technological leap and more likely that everyone involved learned valuable lessons in streamlining the process from movie to movie. That said, Rocket the bonobo still doesn’t convincingly blend with his environment. I guess it’s the lack of body hair.

 War for the Planet of the Apes


War for the Planet of the Apes was shot using various models of Arri Alexa digital cameras and is presented here in 1080p, 2.40:1 video. Apparently, Reeves and returning cinematographer Michael Seresin optimized the film for IMAX by using 65mm lenses and there was also a post-converted 3D version that will be released alongside this 2D disc. As in the case of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the filmmakers visually press the fact that electric grids are unreliable/unavailable in this ape-dominated world by keeping things dark. Most scenes seem to take place at nighttime or within dank buildings, where the only sources of light are torches, candles, or sad, solitary little lightbulbs. This poses a challenge for the transfer in terms of consistent detail and some sequences are so dark that it is hard to tell what’s going on, but the overall result is an impressive mix of soft shapes and complex textures. The fully daylit scenes are super-sharp (at least when Seresin isn’t pulling focus tricks) and feature an overall livelier dynamic range. Colours follow suit with most scenes appearing either bluish with yellow/orange highlights, dusty green, or stark, cooled white. Hue quality is evenly blended and quite vivid where it counts.


War for the Planet of the Apes is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound and is everything you’d expect from an effects and battle-heavy modern movie. While the sturm und drang of shoot-outs, galloping horses, massive, LFE-booming explosions, and screaming apes are the bits most viewers will choose for their home theater demos, the quieter moments sound pretty great as well. Dialogue is neatly separated (the ADR ape dialogue exhibits a slightly uncanny quality at times), the ambience is crisp, and directional elements are quite zippy. Composer Michael Giacchino returns to some of the themes he developed for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and has fun with the tribal and ‘march to war’ motifs (it’s adorable that the opening Twentieth Century Fox fainfair is set to bongos). There’s a sense that he’s channeling John Williams and Bernard Herrmann, but he’s definitely still doing his own thing.

 War for the Planet of the Apes


  • Commentary with co-writer/director Matt Reeves – Reeves is thoughtful and informative throughout this tight and well-structured track. He discusses themes, references, homages to other movies, and the many technical challenges involved in such an effects-heavy production.
  • Ten deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary from Reeves (23:03, HD) – All but one of these are temp versions of scenes without final animation/FX.
  • Waging War for the Planet of the Apes (29:38, HD) – The most extensive of the behind-the-scenes featurettes covers the making of the movie in broad strokes, from screenwriting to characters/casting, ape performance capture, difficult environmental conditions, costume/set/production design, photography, and staging action, complete with on-set footage and cast & crew interviews.
  • All About Caesar (12:40, HD) – Andy Serkis and the filmmakers look back at the evolution of the franchise’s main character.
  • WETA: Pushing Boundaries (10:36, HD) – An exploration of the improvements in special effects and motion capture performance.
  • Music for Apes (6:20, HD) – Giacchino and Reeves visit with a percussionist, who has recorded music for ever single Apes film since 1968 and discuss the new movie’s musical soundtrack.
  • Apes: The Meaning of it All (20:15, HD) – The second substantially-sized featurette covers the history of the franchise.
  • The Apes Saga: An Homage (7:48, HD) – A compilation of the various Easter egg homages to the original series that were peppered throughout the new trilogy
  • Concept art gallery
  • Trailers

 War for the Planet of the Apes


War for the Planet of the Apes wastes a little time retreading the last movie in the series, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but has enough unique insights, new story elements, and genuine poignancy to gracefully cap-off the series. I’d happily watch further ape vs. human adventures, assuming they maintain this level of quality. Fox’s Blu-ray looks and sounds expectedly good and includes a surprisingly extensive collection of behind-the-scenes and retrospective extras.

 War for the Planet of the Apes

 War for the Planet of the Apes

*Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.