One thing that this renewed Planet of the Apes franchise has managed to achieve, is to give it's individual parts a very different tone whilst maintaining the central story. That has allowed for the slow trend towards complete brutality and hopelessness that we see so often in this latest instalment. We have watched Caesar go from a young happy-go-lucky chimp with a friendly John Lithgow grandfather to becoming a battle-hardened tribal leader in a post-apocalyptic world. That is a hell of a journey and it's one we completely buy into as an audience because it has been given the time to develop.
Having dealt with the in-fighting of the tribe in the second film, now we focus on the last bastion of humanity trying to reaffirm dominance over the apes. This has the added effect of keeping Caesar relatively innocent; just a defender who only goes on the offensive over personal vendettas. So emotional.
While the continuation of Caesar's story is engaging and emotionally turbulent enough to make a good story, it does feel like we've seen it all before. I think part of the problem here is that it is no longer relevant that they are apes; if you had made this same story with two warring factions of humans it wouldn't really have changed anything. I understand that it's all analogy anyway, but I feel like there has to be some effort to maintain the central gimmick of the franchise if you want to be able to justify making these films.
This goes especially as the film is constantly trying to hit home the idea that the apes have an innate humanity (in the good sense) whereas the humans are beastly (in the bad sense). It's not terribly subtle and the character of the little girl is really just a McGuffin whose entire function is to reiterate this point. At least there is some paradoxical pleasure from the fact that she is of course, a human, and this is a deliberate attempt to blur the lines of what defines us as species (read as analogy for race or creed or whatever difference you choose to judge people by). It's not that it doesn't work, it just doesn't feel very new any more.
The same goes for the visual effects that generate the apes themselves; still technically flawless as they have always been in this franchise. It is an astounding combination of committed acting and technical wizardry. But... as Caesar himself becomes more “human” in his speech and movement as he develops, he has also started slipping further and further into the uncanny valley. The other apes generally steer clear of this as they are still more apelike and do not generally speak. But the background chimps; the extras, if you will, are disappointingly uncharacterised. Dare I say the phrase, “they all look alike”? When such great care and attention is given to the visuals of the primary characters, this feels like a lazy bit of copy and paste work on a film that should be priding itself on the details of its visual artistry.
My other major complaint is that the ape characters and ape society are just becoming more and more like a tribal human civilisation. If we're going to have them as apes and we want to justify that position, then I want to see more use of their innate chimposity. We do eventually get to see a bit more of this during the prisoner of war element of the film, but surely the driving point of this film should be that the apes are beating the humans because of some advantage that comes from being apes. I want to see them winning because they are equipped to live in this new world better than humans, not because they can learn how to use human weapons.
Ultimately the film is a solid entry and a good rounding chapter for Caesar's story, but it just lacks a sense of originality now that the awe and wonder of them being apes has worn off. 6/10