After the origin story of Rise and the post-apocalyptic survival story of Dawn, War for the Planet of the Apes sees this trilogy come to a thrilling end by giving us exactly what it says on the tin.

What remains of the US military, led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), is hunting Caesar (Andy Serkis) in an attempt to kill the ape leader they see as a threat. Meanwhile, the protagonist has retreated with his tribe to a remote woodland camp, only to be discovered by a reconnaissance squadron of The Colonel’s army in the very first sequence, an explosive start that immediately establishes the world’s brutality. Both sides lose lives and after a second human attack, a personal tragedy sends Caesar into a spiral of anger and revenge.

“A personal tragedy sends Caesar into a spiral of anger and revenge.”

That’s exactly what makes this film stand out from its predecessors, director Matt Reeves takes Caesar down a completely new path. His arc is fascinating. He’s so much darker than we’ve seen before and at times he completely loses the sense of morality that until now has defined him. It’s good then, that the motion capture king, Andy Serkis, is the man wearing the ping pong suit. He brings such heart, hurt and emotion to a computerised ape it beggars belief, and shows us just how underrated an actor he is.

Serkis is helped by perhaps the best CGI cinema has seen to date. There’s so much texture, so much detail. Every fur on every ape’s body glistens in the sun, dampens in the rain and even collects falling snowdrops.

Gorgeous cinematography and vast landscapes only go further to make War a visually stunning piece of work. The provocative image of apes riding on horseback through ice white snow reminds us just how much this world has progressed from Rise’s pre-apocalypse San Francisco setting.

A variety of landscapes and conditions make it the most epic spectacle in the trilogy. Nature feels like an ever present character, and an all-powerful one at that. The Colonel says that the ‘simian flu’ is nature’s way of punishing human arrogance and, with the flu now evolving to threaten the original survivors, it’s clear that man should concentrate on battling the elements rather than a tribe of primates.

Harrelson is exceptional as the main antagonist. Previous instalments had good humans and bad humans, but this time The Colonel is our only reference point to humanity. It’s vital therefore that he toes the line between evil and human. He does so masterfully, providing a villain despicable enough to root against but easy to sympathise with, and using often very logical reasoning.

Other new characters include Nova (Amiah Miller), a young girl who brings a welcomed purity and innocence to the screen, and Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who has evolved by himself and learned to speak. Earning his name from what humans shouted at him in the zoo from which he originated, he’s utterly charming and very funny, which is not something other apes in the franchise have managed.

This is essentially the perfect summer blockbuster. It’s full of incredible action and epic scenery, but focuses on character and provides a genuinely engaging story. Even the third act lives up to expectation, which is becoming increasingly rare in Hollywood blockbusters.

Not all humans are on the same side and not all apes are either. This is a harsh and truthful portrayal of war, where morality is thrown out the window and the water is muddied by betrayal and internal conflict. In the end, there’s no real victor in War for the Planet of the Apes.

★★★★☆

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