War for the Planet of the Apes is a deeply emotional, riveting film that pushes the boundaries of motion capture performance. The third installment of the rebooted franchise continues the epic story of Caesar (Andy Serkis) in superb dramatic fashion. This is not a noisy summer blockbuster bursting with gaudy action scenes. Director Matt Reeves treats death and loss with consequence. He skillfully incorporates ape lore into a heartfelt journey with memorable characters and all too human behavior. The result is a level of complexity and feeling rarely touched by films of this magnitude.

Set several years after the events in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the Simian Flu continues to decimate humanity. The conflict started by the ape Koba against the human survivors has spawned a new, merciless adversary, Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson). Caesar and his band of intelligent apes remain hidden in the California Mountains. Their society has thrived under his leadership, but Caesar knows they cannot stay. McCullough's men inch closer. Led by renegade apes that sided with Koba, these traitors are branded "donkeys" by the bloodthirsty human soldiers.

Left reeling after an encounter with McCullough himself, Caesar decides to take bold action. With his trusted orangutan advisor Maurice (Karin Konoval) and a few dedicated apes, Caesar makes his way to the human base. He discovers a frightening development along the way. The war with man has taken an unforeseen turn that endangers everything the apes have built. Caesar must choose between his thirst for vengeance and the future of his kind.

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War for the Planet of the Apes has an outstanding script. It is not a ten pages and a bang film. Written by Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback, the plot is multi-faceted with thoughtful character interactions and scene development. While Caesar and the apes have learned to exist in harmony for the greater good of their society, humanity has regressed into madness and savagery. This is the dichotomy that exists in the aftermath of the apocalypse. The apes have embraced the ideals of civility, becoming more compassionate as their situation worsens.

Matt Reeves spends a good deal of time establishing relationships. These are somber moments, an expert fusion of visual effects and acting; the key to the film's dramatic success. Much like the first thirty minutes of Dawn, Reeves explores the apes lifestyle and interpersonal dynamics. We know what motivates the characters, how they fit in the story. Caesar carries the burden of leadership, but he is never alone in the fight. He draws strength from the courage of his companions. The humans, led by the tyranny of McCullough, have no well of inspiration to draw from. Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson are absolutely masterful. It is so rare to see the hero and villain of a film so fully realized.

From 20th Century Fox, War for the Planet of the Apes is a stunning cinematic achievement that far exceeds expectations. I was blown away by the dramatic heft of this film. War figures prominently in the title and plot, but there is no brainless action here. The violence is purely in context of the story. There's a lot more drama and dialogue than bullets or explosions. Matt Reeves takes another giant leap forward as a filmmaker. His vision and steady hand have guided The Planet of the Apes franchise to greatness once again.

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Julian Roman