War for the Planet of the Apes completes best blockbuster trilogy since Nolan's Dark Knight films

Rise, Dawn, War... Caesar's epic journey (20th Century Fox)
Rise, Dawn, War… Caesar’s epic journey (20th Century Fox)

Sound the Hans Zimmer horn: the summer’s best blockbuster has arrived.

Matt Reeves’ ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ lands in UK cinemas on 11 July and, having been lucky enough to see it early, we’re happy to say the final part of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ reboot trilogy is a cinematic slam dunk.

‘War’, set a few years after the events of 2014’s ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’, brings Caesar’s story to an end in a powerful way, and ‘Cloverfield’ director Matt Reeves has delivered a trilogy-topping masterpiece that will stay with you for long after the credits have rolled. The Apes trilogy as a whole can now be considered the best standalone blockbuster trilogy* since Christopher Nolan’s triumphant Dark Knight trifecta.

(*Note: The ‘Captain America’ trilogy is also great, but it has the benefit of serving as a crescendo to a number of MCU stories, so we’re not counting it as a ‘standalone trilogy’ here.)

It’s also easy to draw comparisons between Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy and the new ‘Apes’ trilogy too, beyond them both being intelligent franchises that don’t talk down to their audiences. Where Nolan’s trio of Batman films (‘Batman Begins’ in 2005, ‘The Dark Knight’ in 2008, and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ in 2012) took us on a journey with Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne from boy to man, from hero to villain, from the depths of despair to redemption, Caesar’s journey treads a very similar path.

The trio of Apes films follows Caesar from child to reluctant ape leader in ‘Rise’ (directed by Rupert Wyatt). In ‘Dawn’, like ‘The Dark Knight’, our hero finds his beliefs challenged on two fronts: by someone he trusted (like Harvey Dent), his fellow ape Koba, and by Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus whose confrontation with the apes takes on a maniacal zeal, just like the Joker’s battle with Batman does in ‘TDK’.

And in ‘War’, as in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, Caesar is drawn out of hiding into conflict with his enemies after years in hiding, his myth growing ever stronger in the shadows. He comes up against an immovable object – Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is ‘War’s Bane – whose own motivations are not as clear-cut as one first suspects. The enemy’s clash leaves the hero in despair, before leading into to an epic snowbound finale.

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ isn’t considered to be the best in Nolan’s trilogy, but it’s certainly the bleakest. Bane’s siege of Gotham chills to the bone, but it’s here in the third act with an icy blast of atmosphere and superlative storytelling that ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ finally manages to surpass Nolan’s trilogy.

With his Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan changed the face of blockbusters forever (Warner Bros.)
With his Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan changed the face of blockbusters forever (Warner Bros.)

‘War’ may be one of the darkest summer blockbusters in years, but it’s also incredibly moving, thought-provoking, and says more about the human condition than any film about CGI apes has any right to. It’s even quite funny in places too, with Steven Zahn’s goofy Bad Ape bringing some much-needed levity to proceedings.

Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar is sublime, and what’s amazing about ‘War’ is just how much of it plays out in extreme close up. Where previous films in the trilogy have relied on a large human cast to do the emotional heavy lifting, here in ‘War’ it all rests on the soulful eyes of Caesar, which are impeccably realised by Weta’s envelope-pushing photo-real VFX.

Tellingly (and perhaps daringly) the sympathetic human cast has been reduced to a handful of characters, mainly Amiah Miller’s child mute Nova who only ever interacts with apes.

Nolan’s Batman trilogy has long been considered the benchmark for blockbuster sagas, standing shoulder to shoulder with ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Now ‘Apes’ with ‘Rise’, ‘Dawn’, and ‘War’ has set another high benchmark, and can claim a place amongst that group of hallowed blockbuster franchises.

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ arrives in cinemas on 11 July.

See how Weta brought the apes performances to life with CGI below…

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