This piece contains spoilers.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” opens with a battle. Two years have passed since the events of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which ended with human-ape relations frayed, probably for good. Now it’s even worse. Most surviving humans appear to have become soldiers, ready to take out any ape they see. We see a platoon inching their way through a thick forest, then engaging in combat with the lurking apes. Most of them are killed (often by spears). Only three survive, including a turncoat gorilla named Red (Ty Olsson). They meet Caesar (Andy Serkis), who shows mercy. He frees them, asking them to take a message to their fearsome colonel (known only as “The Colonel,” and played by Woody Harrelson) about calling off the war so that they may live in peace.
Caesar suffers a tragedy
But The Colonel does not heed Caesar’s word. In the middle of the night, he and a team sneak into the current ape stronghold. They mean to kill Caesar. Instead they kill his young son and his wife (Judy Greer). This drives Caesar mad with grief, and he decides to abandon his tribe — who are leaving in search of a promised Eden, away from the things of man — to seek revenge.
The virus has evolved
Caesar is joined on his mad mission by a small team, which soon includes a little human girl they name Nova (Amiah Miller) and a traumatized former zoo animal who goes by “Bad Ape” (Steve Zahn). Nova mysteriously can’t speak, and we eventually learn why: The virus that wiped out most of humanity has evolved. When it infects people, their brains turn to mush. They can no longer speak nor form complex thoughts. If this new reboot is indeed going to catch back up with the original “Planet of the Apes” from 1968, this explains why the humans of the far future can’t speak or form complicated thoughts either.
The gang’s all here (unfortunately)
“War” starts as a war movie but turns into a Western. By the halfway mark, it becomes a prison movie. Caesar and gang eventually find The Colonel, who has taken camp in a former weapons depot that they’ve turned into a containment facility. It also has an outdoor prison which, when Caesar and company arrive, learn now contains his ape tribe. While trekking to their destination, they were rounded up and forced into hard labor, which involves building a wall for reasons they don’t know.
Caesar is captured
While trying to sneak into the compound and kill The Colonel, Caesar is captured. He meets with The Colonel, who explains his m.o.: He knows humans are on the way out, thanks to the mutated virus, and he’ll be damned if apes take over the planet. He thinks that’s against God’s will. He also admits that the wall the apes are building is to protect he and his soldiers when the larger army, which has condemned The Colonel’s genocidal mission as crazy, come for him. The Colonel punishes Caesar once Caesar demands The Colonel actually feed his prisoners, who have been left to starve. The Colonel eventually gives in.
It all ends (not) well
Well, at least for the humans. The army does come, but they arrive right as Caesar has orchestrated a successful prison escape. While the apes flee into the mountains, Caesar remains behind to finally kill The Colonel. Instead, he finds The Colonel has caught the virus — thanks to a small blanket left behind by the infected Nova — and can no longer speak. Caesar decides not to fulfill his mission, leaving The Colonel to take his own life. As he makes his escape, Caesar is shot by a soldier, but manages to throw a Molotov cocktail at a gas container, blowing up the entire compound and killing all the soldiers. What’s more, when the army arrives, they wind up all of them buried under a sudden avalanche. Caesar and his ape tribe make their way to their new Edenic home, but once they arrive, Caesar dies from his wounds, closing out this trilogy.