A powerful wrap up to Matt Reeves retelling of the Planet of the Apes legacy, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is a simian-filled mash up of many terrific films.
We are several years after the events of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" and the humans that have survived the plague are hunkered down and battling the apes.
Caesar and his species have settled down in the forest and are weary of conflict, ready to stay in their territory.
Unfortunately, the human troops are led by a brutal and merciless Colonel, well played by Woody Harrelson (True Detective, No Country for Old Men).
Director/Writer Reeves is in full command of the trilogy's final chapter, creating a dramatic action adventure film that plays like some of the best parts of other favorite films.
Opening scenes play like the second half of "Full Metal Jacket" with troops helmets emblazoned with anti-ape slogans like Bedtime for Bonzo. Ape film nerds (like me) will find the first of many references to 1970's "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" with the Alpha/Omega symbol on a helmet.
The middle of the film plays like "The Searchers" as Caesar (Andy Serkis) and a young human girl (Amiah Miller) bond in search of peace.
Serkis is SO good as Caesar that he should be nominated for Best Actor next year. His eyes, face and voice are so expressive that the flawless CGI effects that render him an ape can't hide his performance.
After Caesar is captured by the Colonel, the film turns into "The Great Escape" with Caesar in the Steve McQueen role.
The story doesn't hedge its portrayal of violence and personal loss, showing real emotion and tragedy and its effect on the characters. It's a tribute to the effects crew and filmmakers that you'll be just as moved by the apes personal stories as any human loss.
Harrelson is bad-ass terrific in what could have been a one-note role, Steve Zahn provides some fun humor as an older loner ape and Karin Konoval is strong as Maurice.
Apes nerds should listen for some great musical references to Tom Scott's unusual music score for 1972's "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" during the prison sequences. Michael Giacchino (Star Trek, Up, Jurassic World, Mission Impossible) delivers a strong score throughout.
There are also some interesting visual references to those imposing wooden X's discovered by Charlton Heston in the original 1968 film.
Reeves perfectly balances the line between originality and tribute to the series, leaving the Tim Burton misfire far behind after three terrific films.
You don't have to be a sci-fi fan to enjoy WAR. It's filled with human drama, even if the characters are very hairy versions of humans.
WAR gets a victorious A-.