I quite enjoyed the first two Planet of the Apes remakes; much more than I expected, and it was largely due to the care and attention to detail in the motion-capture effects of bringing the simians to life.

Andy Serkis is not even remotely given his due in terms of the magic he has brought to the screen as characters that include Gollum, King Kong, Supreme Leader Snoke or Caesar. 

The epic finale to the remake of the trilogy finds Caesar (Serkis), the leader of the genetically enhanced society of apes, living deep in the Redwood Forest, battling for alpha species status with the last-stand special forces group of monkey-haters, led by the Kurtz-esque Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson). The film has more than a few “Apocalypse Now” parallels, and as the war rages and the body count stacks up  —ape and human — we quickly come to realize that these two species simply can’t live harmoniously on Earth. Or at least in America. Or at least on the West Coast. Caesar and McCullough develop a certain extinction-level hate or rivalry toward each other, and it causes them to make merciless and highly personal decisions in their dueling.

This film has a decidedly different feel than the previous two. Director Matt Reeves (2018’s “The Batman”) conveys an unintentionally dark, almost ominous mood, which is a stew of “The Great Escape,” “Full Metal Jacket” and “Schindler’s List.” You read that right. After a hard and fast battle introduction, I thought I was watching a true-blue war film, and it was extremely compelling. I was simultaneously impressed and surprised, but the mood devolved quickly.

The war quickly turned into a political statement eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany, where the humans displayed the deplorable barbarism of humanity, led by none other than Woody Harrelson’s Colonel McCullough.

Harrelson claims that he’s not channeling Marlon Brando, but there is something off about the typically great actor’s performance. It’s much too forced, and the sunglasses in the dark don’t do him any favors. The militaristic approach was a bit too inhumane and jingoistic, but I suppose the intended juxtaposition of audience sympathy is the whole point.

Humans bad, apes good.

Two species hitting a crossroads evolutionarily; one grasping for its domination through animalistic violence, and the other reluctantly displaying more humanistic tendencies than expected is a great concept, but played out on the screen in two hours, I just thought the idea would make a stronger novel, and the film should have had more action.

That said, the acting was phenomenal — by the apes. Every one of the main characters communicated so much emotion through their eyes, their sign language, and in some cases their primal grunts and noises. The humans were devoid of emotional depth, however, which left me feeling a bit underwhelmed by the story.

The film was a bit too long, with lengthy segments of inaction, and I question whether horses have the strength to carry gorillas and orangutans on their backs, running at full-speed. That aside, I was absolutely blown away by the realism presented on screen. I would expect numerous Oscar nods in the effects department, and the music kept pace with the action very well, creating what is on the surface a very entertaining film.

I can’t overstate how impressed I was by Serkis, and I hope he is finally recognized by the academy (I said that back in 2014 for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” and his work as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” films).

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is an ambitious but ultimately kind of depressing movie. Come for the effects and the movie magic, but don’t expect to leave with a smile on your face. It’s plenty entertaining for a summer blockbuster, but just a bit too heavy and emotionally layered.