The film opens with a brief recap of the first two films in this part reboot/part prequel series of the 1960's originals. In "Rise" we saw the young Caesar grow, develop a morality, and lead his fellow apes out of captivity. The sequel "Dawn" saw them battling against internal struggles, as well as against the straggling remnants of a once dominant human society. "War for the Planet of the Apes" continues the story in a satisfying way, maintaining the quality, intelligence and style of the first two, while introducing new elements and ideas. We begin with an assault on the apes home by an army unit sent to destroy them. The army come with the express purpose of finding and killing Caesar, who has become a legendary figure amongst the apes, a fantastic leader to their fledgling society. The assault is a last bloody throw of the dice for the humans who are dying out rapidly, while the apes are simply attempting to survive in a new world that is as strange to them, on the way up, as it is to the humans, who are seemingly devolving. It has been one of the major strengths of this new series to portray events from the ape perspective. There is rarely a moment when you feel anti-ape during the films, even though you may sympathise with the human cause too. Here we rejoin Caesar, Maurice, and the others, and they have come to be like a family. New characters this time around include an escapee from a zoo, named "Bad Ape", and a young girl who is unable to speak.
The devolution of humans and the accession of apes to the new dominant species gives the film an interesting twist when compared with most films that concern humans defeating something. Here there is no chance that humanity will survive, it is a downward spiral. The films have always been intelligent, offering social satire, political commentary, and complex characters with meaningful motivations. "War" is no different in this regard. They manage to get away with a lot for a film that is rated a 12A, including torture, killing, enslavement camps, and pretty brutal treatment of the animals, presumably due to being in CG. The film definitely has a depressing tone throughout, lightened a little by the character of Bad Ape, who provides most of the laughs. The film excels at subtlety, with great acting helped along by exceptional special effects. The apes are entirely believable, and display a range of emotions, allowing them to convey meaning with small expressions or looks. A truly remarkable achievement that even goes one better on the previous (already impressive) instalment.
This series has been one of consistently high quality that respects its audience. Covering themes of civilisation, family, war, loss, slavery, and more, it is a fully realised world that draws you in through great storytelling as much as the fantastic special effects. If you enjoyed the first two then this is a fitting sequel. If you haven't then I would highly recommend checking them out.