Through two films, the rebooted Planet of the Apes movies have garnered critical acclaim. And, now, the series’ third installment, War for the Planet of the Apes, is gaining a similar reception. Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, and Steve Zahn and directed by Matt Reeves, War takes place two years after the events of the previous film (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, also directed by Reeves) and finds the apes, led by the charismatic Caesar, in a full-out war against the humans, who are seeking to eradicate them. While it boasts dazzling special effects and elaborate set pieces, critics are saying War is bolstered by strong performances and plot coherence that is so rarely found in today’s summer blockbusters.
Here’s a roundup of what critics had to say.
It’s the best kind of blockbuster filmmaking.
Germain Lussier, io9
When War for the Planet of the Apes ended, I was unable to move. Glued to my seat, I sat dumbfounded at the achievement I’d just witnessed: an exquisitely filmed, emotionally stunning film that challenges what a big-budget, summer blockbuster is supposed to be. And it’s about a planet of apes.
Bilge Ebiri, the Village Voice
I don’t know when it happened, but it happened. Somehow, while we were worrying about superheroes and star destroyers and hot rods and whether Captain America could beat up Superman or whatever, the goddamned Planet of the Apes movies became the most vital and resonant big-budget film series in the contemporary movie firmament.
Todd VanDerWerff, Vox
The Apes films succeed because everyone involved took an approach to franchise filmmaking that eschewed the current vogue for creating movies that feel like endless teases for other movies; the trilogy is smartly wedded to good, old-fashioned blockbuster knowhow.
Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly
It isn’t just the look of the new films that’s been upgraded thanks to breathtaking motion capture technology, the storytelling has gotten richer and more complex, too. Like Caesar and company, the films seem to be getting more intelligent and human as they evolve.
The special effects are on point.
Ethan Anderton, SlashFilm
[T]here’s emotion in every scene as the you forget these apes are digital creations brought to life with computers and motion-capture performance technology. Subtle movements of the eyes, a quivering of the lip, and more all make these apes feel real, continuing to make a strong case for the actors who bring them to life to finally get some kind of recognition for their incredible work.
Scott Collura, IGN
[H]ere the work of visual effects powerhouse Weta Digital has finally reached the point where there’s never reason to question the “realness” of the characters onscreen at all. Ape or human, it makes no difference. This world simply exists.
We take the effects work of the “Apes” films for granted because it’s both seamless and ambitious, but “War” takes mo-cap to new heights. Whether it’s an army of apes on horseback (or the climactic blow-out battle), or intimate moments between Maurice and the equally mute young girl, these three films make us believe what we’re seeing without ever thinking about the complicated technology or hours of detailed work required in the post-production process.
Andy Serkis as Caesar is War’s MVP.
Matt Goldberg, Collider
People will continue to argue whether or not Serkis deserves credit or if it’s the animators at WETA, but for me Serkis is the true MVP. He’s driving this performance, and without his choices and his delivery, the animators could only do so much. Not just anyone can do what Serkis does, and over the course of three movies, he has crafted one of the most heartbreaking and fully-realized characters in blockbuster filmmaking.
Brian Truitt, USA Today
It was a shame that Serkis’ mo-cap role as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films didn’t snag him an Oscar nomination. But it’s truly an injustice if Serkis’ third—and best—turn as Caesar doesn’t get a serious push. While it’s probably still a long shot (no mo-cap performance has ever garnered an acting nomination), what he accomplishes here is monumental.
Alan Cerny, ComingSoon.net
Someone give Andy Serkis an Oscar. Please. It really is that simple. His Caesar is an all-timer. I don’t care how much effects work went into animating his face, because you cannot fake that kind of performance. Serkis has carried these films and brought true emotion and power to pixels and motion capture.
It won’t leave you feeling super-optimistic about the human condition.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire
For large stretches of time, “War for the Planet of the Apes” is simply a marvel of morbid imagery rarely seen in this kind of American movie. The prison, with its weary, bloodied apes shivering in the ruthless cold, looks like a Siberian gulag crossed with the world’s saddest zoo. It’s just disturbing enough to make the plot for an uprising gain renewed urgency, even as we’ve seen variations on it before.
Peter Debruge, Variety
Reeves is determined to do things his way, which means orchestrating a man-vs.-monkey conflict epic enough to justify the movie’s “War” title — represented by a gruesome concentration camp where apes are enslaved and later decimated by machine-gun fire (violence that would tip the film into “R” territory if it were directed at humans).
Rosie Fletcher, Digital Spy
With an extraordinary level of bloodshed and even torture and execution scenes, as well as Harrelson channelling Marlon Brando’s crazed Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, at times War is perhaps a bit too relentlessly grim.
But not everyone agrees that the writing is the best of the series.
David Crow, Den of Geek
Despite this high-mindedness, War is admittedly a step down from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. While it is refreshing that the movie has dispensed with the need for a James Franco or Jason Clarke to hang around and steal screen time from the apes, the picture does not quite have the narrative and tonal clarity of Dawn, which was a slow-motion tragedy about how things fall about between hostile communities, be they in the Middle East or in the ruins of a post-ape apocalyptic San Francisco.
Peter Debruge, Variety
In fact, War so desperately wants to inspire awe that Reeves and DP Michael Seresin (shooting on the large-format, ultra-hi-def Alexa 65) design every shot of the film as if it were a painting intended for the Louvre, getting the composition and lighting to look just perfect, often at the expense of the underlying narrative. Whereas 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (directed by Wyatt) offered a cautionary tale about genetic engineers playing God, and Reeves’ 2014 follow-up Dawn of the Planet of the Apes coincided with growing racial unrest (somewhat problematically equating apes to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.), War fails to delivery a functional allegory.