THR highlights where the last film left off, who plays the villain, and what the critics are saying.
Andy Serkis' return via motion-capture as Caesar, the reluctant leader of the genetically-evolved apes, in Fox’s follow-up to 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the 2014 sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The final installment of the trilogy, rebooting the classic franchise that starred Charlton Heston, is again directed by Matt Reeves and sees the apes facing a new human challenge that threatens their entire existence. Steve Zahn and Woody Harrelson are among the franchise’s newcomers.
While the film wisely doesn't get bogged down in the backstory of the past, there are a number of key things to know from the first two installments, like how Caesar first came to power and how badly the apes were initially treated by the humans. For example, in the last film, Caesar previously wanted to maintain peace and continued to strike down all calls for war against humans, but he later came to the realization that apes are capable of the same selfishness and treachery that humans are capable of. War is set a few years after Dawn, and the third film spotlight’s Caesar’s newly motivated plans for revenge.
This time, the baddie is played by Harrelson. In this week’s THR cover, the actor discusses his painful path from "anonymous and poor" to Cheers, two Oscar nominations, a stint in jail, a drunken foursome and lessons learned along the way.
In the movie, Harrelson plays a ruthless human dictator who uses bigoted rhetoric to motivate its troops against the ape species. Authoritarian tendencies, a refugee crisis, a great wall — sound familiar? Still, the film’s creative assert that any similarities between Harrelson’s Colonel character and real-life leader Donald Trump are purely coincidental. “When we started writing this script, Donald Trump hadn’t even announced his presidency yet,” producer Peter Chernin told THR’s Ashley Lee at the premiere on Monday. “We weren’t looking for overt parallels, but wanted to tell a story that’s organic to these characters.”
Amid a summer strewn with tentpoles panned by critics before disappointing at the domestic box office, Apes boasts a steller 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has gotten reviews that summer tentpoles don't traditionally receive. THR’s Todd McCarthy raves about the movie, praising its visuals ("the sheer beauty of the film is intense," he writes, noting that cinematographer Michael Seresin "intoxicatingly" captures the world around the apes), score and a story that dares to be morally complex instead of reductive for blockbuster audiences.
Similarly, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw commends the movie for being "utterly confident in its own created world, and in the plausibility of its ape characters, who are presented quite unselfconsciously and persuasively." IndieWire's Eric Kohn, who might be less wildly enthusiastic about the movie as a whole, still notes that War is, for large periods, "simply a marvel of morbid imagery rarely seen in this kind of American movie."
The critically-acclaimed final installment of Fox's refurbished trilogy opens everywhere in North America on Friday. Prerelease tracking suggests the tentpole will launch to $55 million or more, and it's already beating holdover Spider-Man: Homecoming, which was released last weekend. The latest Apes movie costs $150 million to produce before marketing.
Previously, sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes debuted to $72.6 million domestically in July 2014. The first title in the trilogy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, bowed to $54.8 million in August 2011.