You'd probably expect that a film with this title would have a lot to do with either a war, or apes—or heck, even a planet. While it does contain many of those as key elements, War for the Planet of the Apes is primarily a human drama.
It begins with a brief recap of the previous two films to get folks caught up—though if you haven't seen either, there's still plenty of content to be enjoyed. We then jump right into the thick of things with a forest-based action sequence, which then causes a chain reaction of events that makes up most of the movie. I'm going to refrain from saying too much more about any of the plot since the trailers did a good job of evoking a feeling of conflict, but without any of the key factors behind it.
2014 doesn't seem all that long ago, but after you see how the apes are rendered this time around, you'd have thought that at least a decade had passed since Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
I found it difficult to distinguish whether or not CGI was being used, or the world's greatest makeup and costume design team put in major work. This isn't a typical Michael Bay summer flick in which there are more unnecessary uses of special effects than there are lines of dialogue. We instead have practical aesthetics that don't distract.
For the first two thirds or so, the film felt like classic action cinema. You've got a healthy dose of characters driven by rage and emotion, all the while booming, thematic music blares in the background. It then transitions towards more of a heist or getaway vibe. It does feel a bit jarring, but the supporting cast of characters do well to help guide viewers through the film's various tonal shifts.
Andy Serkis once again puts forth a standout performance as the leader of the apes, Caesar. On the surface we see these powerful, hulking creatures—but beneath, a wealth of conflicted emotions. Dialogue from apes was used very sparingly, with each line being deliberate and significant.
(Has there ever been a best actor Oscar nomination for a CGI character?)
While War for the Planet of the Apes doesn't bode particularly well as an action movie with loads of battle sequences, it does an exceptional job of building drama towards eventual set pieces. Serkis puts in a memorable last performance as he sunsets the character Caesar, and what's presumed to be the conclusion of the Apes trilogy. War for the Planet of the Apes may not have one key thing that audiences can point to that made it worthwhile to see, but it does a fantastic all-around job and is well worth the price of admission.
1-2: Horrendous, wouldn’t recommend watching even if free of charge.
3-4: Potentially has some good ideas, but overall still lackluster.
5-6: Average, a decently good time; go see it if it's free.
7-8: A solid recommendation, and well-rounded film; warrants a purchase after home release.
9: No glaring flaws; deserves to be watched multiple times.
10: Masterful, must-see; filmmaking at its finest.