Rarely does a movie sequel come along that not only tops what came before but stands alone as a singular motion picture experience. But that is exactly what director and co-writer Matt Reeves has achieved with War For The Planet Of The Apesthe final part of the trilogy that began in 2011 with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, directed by Rupert Wyatt, and then continued by Reeves with 2014’s Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, which moved the critical love and global box office even further up the charts (a $710 million gross). This one will go even higher as it’s really quite incredible, by far the most stunning and best of any of the nine total Planet Of The Apes movies.

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As I say in my video review above, even if you are not a fan of this genre or these films, you should go. This is a film that stands on its own and will blow you away, a dazzling, thrilling and mind-reeling experience from start to finish. It is hard to believe that February will mark the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the 1968 original that starred Charlton Heston. That movie was great, and since then it — and Pierre Boule’s 1963 novel — have spawned a cottage industry that included numerous sequels, a couple of TV series, a misguided Tim Burton reboot in 2001 and then this spectacular trilogy, which puts it on a par with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy in terms of pure gravitas and smarts.

In this film co-written by Dawn’s screenwriter Mark Bomback, a virus has decimated the human race, and the Apes, who were continuously tormented by them, now seem to have the upper hand. Unfortunately, a new human threat to their well-being is taking hold, and they must vacate their beautiful sanctuary and escape to a new dwelling. Another major decision for their wise but graying and weary leader Caesar (again played brilliantly and with great pathos by Andy Serkis) is, due to the heavy and very personal toll on his breed and himself, whether to take revenge on the band of humans — who, as demonstrated by an evil American colonel (Woody Harrelson), will stop at nothing to try to save what is left of the human race. Channeling Marlon Brando’s Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (one of many homages to classic war films here including The Great Escape and The Guns Of Navarone)Harrelson has numerous Apes, disciples of the late human-hating Koba, in his encampment, denying them food, water and any semblance of civility. He is a vicious SOB, but the film doesn’t make him out to be a one-dimensional bad guy. His actions are the stuff of war’s darkest side, and he has to do what he thinks he has to do to get humans back into the picture.

Caesar also has to do what he has to do, but the decisions about just what that is have become more complex. His close gang includes wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and son Cornelius (Devyn Dalton), along with Steve Zahn’s hilarious Bad Ape, a reformed zoo attraction who provides what light moments the film has. Among many others there’s also Rocket (Terry Notary); the wise orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval); and even an angelic human little girl named Nova (Amiah Miller) who has adopted this tribe, and vice versa.

Under Reeves’ superb guidance, the film has much to say about our times including politics, race, empathy for others and so much more. Michael Seresin’s cinematography is stunning, as is a perfectly pitched musical score from Michael Giacchino, one of his best. Serkis is commanding and moving as Caesar, taking this piece of acting way beyond use of the tools of makeup and effects. This is a stirring performance on a par with any actor this year, quite frankly. Harrelson, as is often the case these days, is brilliant as well.

Producers are Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. 20th Century Fox releases the film July 14. It might well be the movie of the summer, and maybe the year. Of course, it is early to predict that, but what I can say is this film is firing on all cylinders. Studio movies of this scale don’t get much better than this.

Do you plan to see War For The Planet Of The Apes? Let us know what you think.