'War For The Planet Of The Apes' Review Round-Up: An Astonishing, Absorbing Sequel

Though the release of War for the Planet of the Apes is still over two weeks away, 20th Century Fox knows they have a winner on their hands and have unleashed the extremely positive reviews and word of mouth a little early. Last week, the studio held free fan screenings all around the world, as well as the first press screenings, and while we already delivered our own glowing review of the movie (along with one compelling observation about a particular shortcoming), there are plenty more voices to be heard.

We've assembled some excerpts of War for the Planet of the Apes reviews to give you a wider scope of how the sequel is being perceived. The reactions so far are extremely positive, though there are some who were not quite as impressed as the rest. Find out more in our War for the Planet of the Apes reviews round-up below.

Bilge Ebiri at The Village Voice writes:

I don't know when it happened, but it happened. Somehow, while we were worrying about superheroes and star destroyers and hot rods and whether Captain America could beat up Superman or whatever, the goddamned Planet of the Apes movies became the most vital and resonant big-budget film series in the contemporary movie firmament.

Scott Collura over at IGN was also impressed by the sequel:

War for the Planet of the Apes is an excellent closing act to this rebooted trilogy, but also one that does enough world-building that the series can potentially continue from here – and it's a rare case where, after three movies, we're left wanting more. Andy Serkis is once again outstanding as Caesar as he wrestles with the morality of inter-species warfare, and his supporting cast almost all provide memorable and striking performances as well. They're assisted by seamless effects, which seldom have the luxury of not having to try to carry a whole blockbuster on their own. Director Matt Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback display a fantastic ability for both spectacle and restraint in delivering one of the best summer blockbusters in years.

Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian couldn't say enough nice things about the sequel:

The continuingly absorbing Apes franchise delivers its stories with conviction and intensity; it is utterly confident in its own created world, and in the plausibility of its ape characters, who are presented quite unselfconsciously and persuasively. The movie isn't afraid to place its centre of narrative gravity within this simian world, and does not feel the need to balance them all the time with humans. It has sweep, fervent ambition, some great action and combat sequences, sparse but nicely judged touches of humour and is also unafraid of long dialogue scenes and character confrontation. In moments of crisis, there are some compellingly strange extreme closeups on faces.

Offering some dissenting perspective, Peter Debruge at Variety didn't fall in love with the movie:

In Fox's recently rebooted "Apes" trilogy (three and counting), the computer-generated chimps appear more human than the homo sapiens — which is clearly what the series has been working up to. In purely technical terms, director Matt Reeves more than achieves that goal, although it requires rigging the screenplay and reducing the human characters to crass two-dimensional stereotypes in the process.

For better or worse, the result is the most impressive anthropomorphic-animal adventure since "Chicken Run" — although impressiveness alone does not a good movie make.

"War" so desperately wants to inspire awe that Reeves and DP Michael Seresin (shooting on the large-format, ultra-hi-def Alexa 65) design every shot of the film as if it were a painting intended for the Louvre, getting the composition and lighting to look just perfect, often at the expense of the underlying narrative.

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Matt Goldberg at Collider was more than satisfied with the film:

While other franchises have to make concessions "for the fans" (i.e. people who demands nostalgic reverence and reaffirming nods rather than challenging movies) or try to chase trends, the Apes movies have surprisingly been left alone, allowed to flourish, thrive, and become one of the best sci-fi series ever made.

War is a somber, tense journey that goes from being a revenge film to a savior narrative to an escape story, but Reeves expertly weaves it all together through Caesar and the culmination of a saga that started back with Rise.

James Dyer at Empire warns those expecting non-stop action, but not in a bad away:

That this is a more introspective journey than advertised will frustrate those expecting to see an army of irate bonobos rain death upon their human oppressors. That's not to say there isn't excitement, nor that the finale lacks fire and brimstone, but the war of the title is primarily one of the soul. Even Caesar's revenge, when it comes, is told with poignant restraint. The conflict here is one of morality, identity and the boundaries of humanity; all the guns and napalm, while present, are secondary to War's purpose.

Scott Mendelson at Forbes says:

Matt Reeves' War for the Planet of the Apes is a cinematic triumph. It manages to build on the grim world established in Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Matt Reeves' Dawn of the Planet of the Apes while telling a unique story that works as a stand-alone drama and a fitting finale for what's come thus far. It is as bleak and pessimistic as any summer blockbuster I can remember, yet still filled with "humanity" and unexpected empathy. It may not have much new to say regarding the human condition or humanity's propensity for mass slaughter, but it says it very well.

Chris Nashawaty at Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+, pointing out some shortcomings while praising it:

It isn't just the look of the new films that's been upgraded thanks to breathtaking motion capture technology, the storytelling has gotten richer and more complex, too. Like Caesar and company, the films seem to be getting more intelligent and human as they evolve.

If War occasionally lapses into mawkish, melodramatic moments it doesn't need (or that Reeves' and Mark Bomback's script can't fully support—apparently apes can be as corny as humans), War more than makes up for it with sequences of such eye-candy spectacle you won't cry foul. I'm not sure where the Apes franchise goes from here exactly. Or if it even goes anywhere. But if this is the series' swan song, it's going out on top

Eric Kohn at IndieWire also notes the presence of melodrama, but can't help but praise the film:

With "War for the Planet of the Apes," technological wizardry and first-rate storytelling combine into a bracing action-adventure that concludes the best science fiction trilogy since the original trio of "Star Wars" movies.

That's not to say the movie's a flawless achievement, devoid of ham-fisted dialogue or predictable plot twists that often hobble movies designed for mass market appeal. But insofar as the premise is concerned, it catapults beyonds the cheesy nature of the material to deliver a serious, gripping big screen achievement elevated by astonishing special effects and filmmaking prowess to match.

Our friend Jordan Raup at The Film Stage adds another voice of dissension as he writes:

Mark Bomback and Reeves' script, while intelligibly uncomplicated structure-wise as it embraces western tropes, is also thinly sketched, pre-supposing one's attachment to these characters is greater than what actually renders, in scenes that feel like a string of clichéd signifiers that aren't supported by a genuine dramatic weight. This trilogy could effectively toy with our allegiance towards humanity, thanks to the top-notch visual effects at the filmmakers' disposal to render primates as authentic characters, but due to the level of self-serious import that devours every scene, it's more likely one will come away feeling little loyalty towards either side of this conflict.

War of the Planet of the Apes has all the bombast and sense of finality seemingly required for the end of a trilogy, but there's an underlying emptiness that nags with each scene. As an evolution of the morality play Reeves explored in Dawn, it still suffers the same fate: any discerning viewer will immediately latch on to everything these filmmakers have to say in the opening scenes, then must wait a few hours for the formulaic conventions to plod along.

Woody Harrelson Han Solo Character

Kristy Puchko over at Comic Book Resources also walked away disappointed:

I admire Reeves' ambition. Everything from the sprawling action sequences, to the resounding orchestral score, and even the straight-faced seriousness of his apes speaks to his respect for this property. He clearly set out to make not just a summer blockbuster that'd thrills audiences, but also one that the Academy Awards might see as a grand drama on the same level of the films it earnestly references, like Apocalypse Now and The Ten Commandments. But amid all his big ideas, Reeves lost touch with the property's humanity, creating an impressive but cold epic.

Alonso Duralde at The Wrap was satisfied, though also notes the film isn't perfect:

There's a lot that "War" has going for it, including some of the richest characterizations of all three "Apes" reboots, along with the next-level CG work of bringing an ape army to life with expressive, emotional faces. Like its two predecessors, it has its flaws — and each entry has had unique ones — but overall, this is a trilogy that will stand as an example of how to remake and reimagine familiar material in a way that respects the original while also enhancing it.

Mike Ryan at Uproxx is impressed a blockbuster like this is still being made:

War For the Planet of the Apes is a truly remarkable piece of "summer blockbuster" filmmaking. To the point where I do wonder what summer audiences, used to pretty colors and explosions, will think of this deliberately paced, often meditative story about not just the end of humankind, but also the end of the human spirit. In other words: This is not a movie you come out of feeling good.

The War For the Planet of the Apes is less "action movie" (though there are some explosions) and more a meditation on the definition of humanity. It's extremely ambitious and I almost can't believe it exists. The first film was from the human standpoint. The second film gave us a fairly nuanced look at both sides. Now this third takes us all in with the apes as the main characters. And it somehow works. It's actually heartening to know that "summer blockbuster"-type movies like this can still be made.

Finally, Rodrigo Perez at The Playlist praised the film for being almost defiantly smart and more:

In the middle of this solemn consideration of compassion and the darkest of primal impulses, lies an intense dramatic thriller ultimately about the heavy cost of retribution and the currency found in mercy. Both entertaining and somber, "War Of The Planet Of The Apes" makes the case for a smart blockbuster that doesn't have to pander to four quadrant considerations for success.

Technologically, 'War' is another triumph. Visually, the photorealism of flesh and hair — traditionally the hardest VFX to pull off — is masterful, no one pushes motion capture the way WETA does, and superb performances elevate already beautifully generated images. Don't be surprised when some start beating the drum for some kind of motion capture performance award for Andy Serkis who has become the maestro of this technique. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Michael Giacchino's tremendously suspenseful score.


That's all for the War for the Planet Apes reviews round-up. The movie currently stands at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes with a critic rating of 8.2 out of 10. That's a solid start, but there are still a couple weeks to go before the movie arrives, so there may be some more negative reactions between now and then. Still, the majority of reviews seem to be feeling positive about this rich sequel that has so much more to offer than visual spectacle.

War for the Planet of the Apes arrives on July 14.