Why ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Will Surprise and Shock You

There have been ups and downs in the twice rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise. The original 1968 film starring Charlton Heston was very different from the films we see on screen today, and few sequels manage to match the quality of a truly great first film.

But the trajectory of this franchise has been a bit different. With the latest installment, War for the Planet of the Apes, the rebooted series has generated a lot of buzz, and critics are saying that despite earlier floundering, things are back on track for the apes. Here’s why this film is shocking audiences.

The action is well-balanced

Men and apes riding horses through the snow
War for the Planet of the Apes | 20th Century Fox

If you’ve never seen the original film, you might be surprised to learn that it wasn’t an action movie at all. However, the rebooted franchise has put physical fighting as the focus.

For the first time in the newly rebooted trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes realized how to marry the original with the new …

There is a war, but it’s less of a physical one

Apes and humans lined up holding weapons
War for the Planet of the Apes | 20th Century Fox

Despite its name, the film’s central war isn’t so much centered around action, but rather on a more “introspective journey,” as critic James Dyer of Empire wrote in his review. Dyer continues, “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.”

In other words, the war in question is about much more than body count, which aligns perfectly with our next point …

It returns to its roots

Two apes and a man standing together
Planet of the Apes | 20th Century Fox

As previously mentioned, the original Planet of the Apes film, which spawned numerous sequels, isn’t an action flick at all. One of the most memorable scenes in the film takes place in a courtroom, and what made the film so compelling were the social issues it addressed, all circling back to the central question surrounding humanity and its inevitable destruction.

The psychological conflict in War for the Planet of the Apes mirrors these sentiments on the apes’ end, bringing back what made the original concept so intriguing.

Its special effects don’t disappoint

Apes in the shadows looking out across a landscape
War for the Planet of the Apes | 20th Century Fox

Of course, it wouldn’t be a big-budget sci-fi flick without quality special effects. The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy calls them “splendid,” adding, “[t]he sheer beauty of the film is intense.” McCarthy specifically praises cinematographer Michael Seresin for the magnificent landscape portrayed.

But there’s another major area here that deserves recognition: The apes themselves are a work of art, with impressive motion capture employed to bring them to life.

It embraces the silence

Amiah Miller in a hooded sweatshirt looking sad
War for the Planet of the Apes | 20th Century Fox

Dialogue is often the downfall of action films, but War for the Planet of the Apes manages to avoid this issue altogether, with a lack of verbal communication.

As Lindsey Bahr of The Associated Press writes, the “minimal dialogue” is fitting, creating the effect of “essentially a silent movie with the mute girl and the majority of the apes communicating in sign language.” After all, sometimes less is more.

Andy Serkis is better than ever

Andy Serkis as Caesar with a sad look on his face
War for the Planet of the Apes | 20th Century Fox

Extraordinary motion capture actor Andy Serkis returns in War for the Planet of the Apes as Caesar, and he continues to top his previous appearances. Critics are singing his praises, including Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers who sites Serkis’ performance for its “resonant power and depth of feeling that’s nearly Shakespearean.”

Like many others, Travers calls for the Academy’s recognition of Serkis. This addresses an area that has been lacking due to the old-fashioned thinking that motion-capture performances aren’t really “acting.” This couldn’t be further from the truth: Serkis has shown time and time again that he is able to convey subtle emotion better than actors who aren’t having their faces digitally altered in post. It’s time for the Academy to acknowledge this.

The ‘shock’ is a lack of shock

A city at night and an image of an ape projected onto a building
War for the Planet of the Apes | 20th Century Fox

In the end, it’s the absence of a major battle that sets War for the Planet of the Apes apart. Though, as Travers writes, the action scenes are “thunderously exciting,” the true conflict is internal.

In a time of political unrest, the film asks many of the questions we’re asking ourselves and paints a picture of an untrustworthy government.

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