Step aside, Wonder Woman; there's a new beloved blockbuster of the summer — and War for the Planet of the Apes has a level of critical praise that would make even the first lady of superhero movies jealous. Simply put, it's getting reviews that summer tentpoles just don't traditionally receive.
To wit, The Hollywood Reporter'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.
"[O]ne of the great merits of the screenplay by Mark Bomback, who co-wrote the previous entry and shares credit on this one with [director Matt] Reeves, is that it takes all the characters' views, grievances and aspirations seriously," McCarthy writes, "although investment in Caesar's and the apes' cause is assumed and tacitly encouraged, the film doesn't insist that they are right and everyone else is intrinsically evil."
The Village Voice's Bilge Ebiri was equally impressed. "Of course, people are often capable of great evil; we don’t need the movies to tell us that. But the mindless, tribal destructiveness on display in this film is not some outside, unfamiliar force. These aren’t zombies. We recognize this impulse, this willingness to embrace raw hatred and give ourselves over to leaders who focus and cultivate our rage. These days, we know it all too well," he writes. "The picture pulls us as viewers into an atmosphere so oppressive that it leaves no room for morality; we’re too caught up in the characters’ struggle for survival to worry about anything else. To put it another way: This movie is a dangerous place to be."
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," and notes, "War for the Planet of the Apes has its own sense of purpose; it does not get distracted with tricksy or self-aware Statue of Liberty moments, either ones of their own or variations on the original, and of course this is partly because of the franchise’s prequel status. But it is also clearly a larger decision to frame the movies with clarity and directness, without huge cosmic ironies."
Although IndieWire's Eric Kohn might be less wildly enthusiastic about the movie as a whole — witness the B+ grade, if nothing else — he nonetheless writes that War is, for large periods, "simply a marvel of morbid imagery rarely seen in this kind of American movie." Brian Truitt at USA Today adds that, although the movie gets bogged down by a late action sequence, the pic "turns it around before the end when both men and apes have to deal with their own survival-of-the-fittest situations. The satisfying and heart-wrenching climax is a last reminder that Caesar’s new adventure is one of this summer’s best."
Perhaps Empire's James Dyer puts it best: "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. A misnomer, certainly, but Existential Ruminations of the Planet of the Apes wouldn’t sell nearly as much popcorn."