Truth be told, I wasn't officially invested in the reboot of the Planet of the Apes saga until I saw the second one, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, in theaters in the summer of 2014. I loved that installment, so to fill in the blanks, I went back and watched the first film, appreciating it more than if I just watched them in order. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was slightly slow, but it was necessary to tell the story, and I personally thought that the sequel was superior. After seeing Dawn, I was extremely excited for War for the Planet of the Apes, and I think it's safe to say that it was worth the wait.
Simply because the word "war" is in the title of the movie doesn't necessarily mean the entire film is all-action. If that's what you're looking for, I'd advice going to see Dunkirk or Baby Driver (both were quite good, by the way). That is the biggest criticism I have heard about War for the Planet of the Apes: that it was "too slow" for them, and I can totally understand that. Outside of the battle in the opening scene, there is a ton of talking before the war actually begins, but please do note that all of the talking is completely justified and needed in setting up the second half of the movie.
Before I go further into the stellar story that War for the Planet of the Apes tells, I must mention how incredible the graphics (is that the right word?) look throughout. The first film was released a mere six years ago, yet the monkeys have looked more and more real with each installment. Of course, Andy Serkis isn't in human form, but the similarities between him and Caesar are simply uncanny appearance-wise. Serkis does such a wonderful job with Caesar, and although he doesn't say a ton, his facial expressions alone do all the talking for him.
Speaking of Caesar, he is far and away the star of these movies, not any of the humans (except for Woody Harrelson's character in this film, but more on that later). His character arc is amazingly well-crafted, and he isn't the evil ape many probably thought he would be when the saga started. His motives are pretty simple: saving his kind, and more importantly, his family. He wishes no harm on the humans, but if they do anything to target his fellow apes or his family, that's when he gets even.
That's the general theme of War for the Planet of the Apes (warning: spoilers ahead). His son and wife are killed (it took me a while to realize that's who was slaughtered at the beginning of the film because it was so dark in that scene, but it isn't long before Caeser outright says his son and wife were murdered by one of the humans), so he's out for revenge and advises the rest of the monkeys to move on without him. He brings a small group of other apes along with him, and is joined by another escapee ape later on named "Bad Ape," who is voiced by Steve Zahn. He brings some much-needed comic relief to this otherwise intense movie.
In wanting to force the humans (and specifically the one who killed his son and wife) to pay for their sins and suffer the consequences of their actions, Caesar admits he is following in the footsteps of Koba, the ape who started the war between the monkeys and the humans to begin with in Dawn. In case you didn't already know, Koba was killed at the end of that movie, though he does appear in flashback sequences and in nightmares Caesar has in War. He was a real interesting villain, so I'm glad he wasn't completely forgotten about.
There were a few confusing moments for me during the movie, but as it progresses, everything starts to make sense. For example, I didn't understand why the girl (later named Nova, a nod to the original movies) the apes picked up en route to finding The Colonel couldn't speak. It wasn't explained until halfway through when The Colonel said the disease that the remaining humans were apparently immune to caused them to lose the ability to speak eventually. That's actually a clever way of tying it in to the old movies that are supposed to take place after this, though there is no official connection.
Additionally, there isn't much to say about the humans because there's only three who are really spotlighted: The Colonel, Nova and The Preacher (one of the soldiers working with The Colonel). The latter two hardly say anything, so The Colonel does the heavy lifting for the humans and does a spectacular job at that. He's really made out to look sadistic as possible, especially when he explains that he killed his own son to ensure the disease didn't spread. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about him and you badly want to see Caesar give him his comeuppance.
His ultimate demise is executed almost masterfully in a way as well. When Caesar finally escapes the humans' prison for the apes and is about to kill The Colonel, he comes to discover that The Colonel has been "infected" and can no longer speak. He's virtually helpless by this point and invites the idea of Caesar shooting him in the head. After a long internal struggle, Caesar choose not to do what Koba would have and instead leaves The Colonel to commit suicide. Thus, Caesar remained true to himself in the process.
I can't say I expected the ending, either, which is a good thing. I figured all the humans would be wiped out by the epic battle (and the apparent avalanche) in order for the apes to rule the planet and reach their "promise land," but I was shocked when Caesar rolled over and died in the final few minutes of the movie. I don't mean that as a criticism, but rather as praise. He died a hero after all he did to save his fellow apes, and now the apes that are left can create a better world without him.
Now, where does this leave the future of the franchise? Obviously, if the movie makes money (and it already has), there will be more movies, but nothing (as of this writing) has been set in stone for what other installments might entail. Would a fourth film take place immediately after this, or possibly years into the future to start right where the original movies were set (maybe not in the 3900s but slightly earlier than that)? Personally, I would end it here, because this trilogy was so well done from start to finish that I would hate for it be tarnished with a fourth film (sans Caesar, mind you).
I suppose only time will tell in regards to if more movies will be made, but nevertheless, check out these three tremendous films back-to-back-to-back in the meantime. I would advise you to watch the first two movies first to refresh your memory going into War for the Planet of the Apes, but beyond that, see this as soon as you can. It's an awesome sci-fi thriller that is paced just right and the battle that is built up from the beginning is well-worth the price of admission alone. It's very rare a reboot series is every bit as exciting than the original, but these movies might be better.
Should you see this movie? Yes.