Special Effects: A-
There's nothing inherently wrong with War for the Planet of the Apes, but there's nothing inherently great about it either. If there's anything that has consistently improved over the course of the current series of films in this franchise, it's the special effects. If you're looking for fantastic spectacle, this movie has more than its fair share of it and will deliver what you want at the multiplex.
That aside, I'm not sure how many of these "Apes" movies the world really needs. This one is getting notably better reviews than the previous two, and I'm honestly a little baffled by that. This one is indeed solid entertainment, which is exactly what I called the last one, 2014's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It's no better or worse than its predecessor, though. It's just another one.
It's also the longest of these newer films, at 140 minutes, and I suppose the script writers -- and the editors -- should be commended for keeping the story at a steady clip for all of that time; this movie is never boring. That said, half an hour could also have been shaved off with little consequence.
The first in what can currently be considered a trilogy, in 2011, was called Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and with no numbers attached to these titles, it's already confusing as to the sequencing. In what world is it logical for the "dawn" to follow the "rise"? Then again, these are movies in which mature gorillas, which weigh upwards of 350 lbs, have no problem horseback riding. Then again, some of these apes also speak English, so maybe let's not get into a discussion of suspension of disbelief.
A couple of title cards in this movie set things straight for us, using "Rise" and "Dawn" in bold and in sequence as a brief recap of all that had occurred before. The apes are hiding in the woods from a last band of human soldiers desperate to keep their species going.
This time we get Woody Harrelson as the villain, a crazy colonel who not only rounds up apes and enslaves them as workers building a wall around his fortress -- one not that dissimilar from the one in the last movie -- but also kills any human who has lost their ability to speak coherently. The "simian flu" has mutated, you see, and is turning some humans into degenerating animals who can't talk or think straight. Caesar the ape and a small band of ape comrades wind up taking care of a little girl they have orphaned (Amiah Miller), and she has this condition -- yet for some reason she is more mute than anything else, and can clearly still think straight.
Most of the plot here has Caesar, once again played -- brilliantly -- with motion capture by Andy Serkis, out for revenge against this colonel. This allows for some soul searching and the question of how similar he may be becoming to Koba, the villainous ape from the previous film.
The location setting of the story is somewhat disappointingly limited to one place for most of the story: the colonel and his small army's fortress on a snowy mountainside, which they are enslaving captured apes to help them fortify against another army of humans who rightly think he's gone off his rocker. Still, director Matt Reeves manages to provide us with some fairly dazzling effects sequences, including a very impressive avalanche.
The digital renderings of all the different kinds of apes is as impressive as ever, if not more so; Caesar is in particular amazingly expressive. The same can be said of "Bad Ape," a new character played by Steve Zahn who also happens to be able to speak and provides the film's smattering of comic relief.
Is War for the Planet of the Apes essential, though? I'm not sure I'd go that far. If you just want to go to the movies and be entertained, and the concept continues to intrigue you, then it's not going to disappoint. No one's expecting a high-minded intellectual exercise here. It could use a bit of that, to be honest -- something the original film from the sixties actually had, rather than just being a blockbuster entertainment. When it comes down to it, anyone interested in this movie won't regret seeing it; anyone who waits until they can watch it streaming at home won't think they missed out on much either.