War for the Planet of the Apes, the newest film in the Planet of the Apes franchise, is about to open in theaters nationwide. This summer has seen the release of several movies that are part of larger franchises but that are really standalone adventures, like Wonder Woman and to some extent Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. However, War for the Planet of the Apes is very much a part of a movie trilogy, and so it’s worth refreshing yourself on the previous two films before seeing this one. If you don’t have time to actually rewatch those movies, here’s a refresher on what’s happened so far.
Although War is actually the ninth film in the Planet of the Apes series, all that’s really important to War is the continuity of the rebooted trilogy, which began with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. That movie starred James Franco as Will Rodman, who is a scientist at Gen-Sys and is attempting to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. He has been testing a drug called ALZ-112 on chimpanzees, especially a chimp known as Bright Eyes. But when Will is giving an important presentation about ALZ-112, Bright Eyes escapes and goes on a rampage, being killed in the process. This results in Gen-Sys shutting down Will’s research project.
It’s soon discovered that Bright Eyes gave birth to a baby chimp before going on her rampage, and Will decides to take in the animal and raise it. This ape is given the name Caesar, and it becomes clear that Caesar is extremely intelligent. The movie then cuts to three years later. Will has been caring for Caesar all this time, and Caesar loves to swing around the redwood forest. Soon, Will decides to give the drug ALZ-112 to his father, Charles, who is suffering from dementia. To Will’s delight, it works remarkably well and seems to cure his father and even increase his intelligence. But after a five-year time jump, we see that Charles has become resistant to ALZ-112 and is not doing well.
Caesar winds up injuring a neighbor while trying to protect Charles, and this results in him being taken away and placed in a shelter. Caesar does not function very well in the shelter, being treated cruelly both by the other apes and especially by one of the guards, Dodge Landon, played by Tom Felton. Meanwhile, Will convinces his boss to approve a much more powerful version of the drug after Will explains that it can boost intelligence, but Charles refuses to take any more, and he dies. The new drug is gaseous, and upon being exposed to it, Will’s assistant Robert Franklin becomes ill. He runs to Will’s house to warn him about this, ending up bumping into Will’s neighbor, Douglas Hunsiker, and sneezing blood on him. Later, Franklin dies.
Caesar begins to form relationships with the apes in the shelter and asserts his dominance. At one point, he expresses the idea that apes are weak on their own, but they’re strong together; he does so by bundling a bunch of sticks together and showing how difficult it is to break them, saying, “Apes together strong.” This is a line that comes back in both of the subsequent films.
When Will comes back to try to bring him home, Caesar won’t leave. Caesar is also angry with Will for abandoning him. Caesar soon escapes, getting canisters of the ALZ-113, bringing it back to the shelter, and unleashing it. This gives the apes at the shelter intelligence. Now, the intelligent apes flee, break the remaining apes out of Gen-Sys, and freeing even more apes from the San Francisco zoo.
This culminates in a battle at the Golden Gate Bridge as the police try to prevent the apes from making it to the forest. After a fight, the apes do get to the forest, and Will catches up with them. He begs Caesar to come home, but Caesar, speaking to Will for the first time, says, “Caesar is home.” Caesar flees into the jungle, and the movie ends.
In a credits scene, though, we find out that the neighbor character who was sneezed on earlier is a pilot. He has been infected because of that sneeze, and a map shows him spreading the infection around the world. It is implied here that this is how humanity is wiped out.
That leads us directly into the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which opens again with a map showing much of the world’s population being wiped out by the virus. 10 years later, only those who were immune to ALZ-113 have survived, and it is implied that Will was one of those who was killed. In the Muir Woods in San Francisco, we pick up with Caesar as the leader of a community of apes. He even has a son, Blue Eyes, and a wife, Cornelia.
Not long into the movie, the apes clash with some surviving humans. Caesar is walking through the woods with his son Blue Eyes and his friend Ash when they encounter a human, Carver. Carver panics and shoots Ash. Carver’s men arrive, and Caesar demands that they leave. The humans do leave, going back to a civilization they have set up around a skyscraper. Caesar and a bunch of his fellow apes then show up at the human colony to declare that the humans must stay where they are unless they want a full blown war. The main person advocating for taking this step is Koba, an ape who holds a grudge against humanity for how they treated apes before the fall of civilization.
But we find out that there exists a hydroelectric dam in the apes’ community, and the humans need to access to this in order to provide power to their civilization. Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) go directly to Caesar and talk about their need for the dam’s power supply. Caesar says they can set up a generator as long as they surrender their guns.
Malcom brings his son Ellie (Keri Russell) and son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) with him as he works on the dam, and they all start bonding with the apes, with Jason Clarke’s character being the James Franco of this movie. But the humans still don’t trust the apes completely, and so Carver, one of the members of Malcom’s group, has brought a gun in that he hid from Caesar. When Caesar discovers this, he demands that the humans leave. He gives them one more day, though, during which Malcom and his crew are able to get the generator working.
As this is going on, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) starts to build up an armory, something Koba discovers. Koba, feeling that Caesar is too pro-human, steals an assault rifle from the armory and kills Carver, the human who had secretly brought the gun to the ape civilization. Koba then sets off a fire at the ape civilization, and during the ensuing chaos, he shoots and apparently kills Caesar. Nobody saw this happen, and so Koba claims that Carver shot Caesar. Koba has been wanting a full-scale war with the humans, and now he has put this into motion; however, everyone but Koba thinks they’re going to war because the humans killed Caesar.
The apes arrive at the human skyscraper civilization ready for battle, capturing it and imprisoning many people. Koba wants to kill these humans, but Ash, Caesar’s friend, refuses. Koba kills Ash, and he locks up all of the apes that still show loyalty towards Caesar. We soon find out that Caesar is still alive. Malcolm and his family find a severely injured Caesar and care for him, going to Caesar’s old home where they find photos of Will Rodman, who Caesar says was a good man. Malcolm runs into Caesar’s son Blue Eyes while looking for medical supplies, at which point Blue Eyes finds out Caesar survived the attack. Blue Eyes then frees the apes loyal to Caesar that had been imprisoned by Koba.
As this was all going on, Dreyfus radioed a military base, and a whole army is now on its way ready to take on the apes. Caesar fights Koba and ultimately kills him, letting him fall to his death while Dreyfus sets off some explosives and kills himself. Malcolm and Caesar have one final conversation, and he and his family flee. Caesar awaits the approaching human army, and the film ends. In a post-credits scene, we hear what sounds like some debris being moved, potentially implying that Koba survived his fall and will return.
This brings us to War for the Planet of the Apes, which promises to depict a large-scale war between the apes and the humans which was provoked by Koba, an anti-human ape, in the previous movie. The movie picks up two years after the ending of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as the war rages on and both humans and apes are on the brink of destruction.