Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

by - May 10th, 2024 - Movie Reviews


Sensational Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Confidently Moves Beyond Caesar and into a Brave New Simian World

Has any major studio franchise ever taken as many risks and followed so many intriguing tangents as the Planet of the Apes series? The 1968 original concluded with the realization that the story’s hero — Charlton Heston’s bewildered astronaut Taylor — was not on some distant unexplored planet but instead on Earth all along. Its follow-up, 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes, climaxed with the literal end of all life after the explosion of a powerful atomic “doomsday” warhead. After that came entries containing time travel, slave uprisings, and the eventual subjugation of humanity.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024) | PHOTO: 20th Century Studios

After Tim Burton’s 2001 reboot went off the rails, producers waited a full decade before trying to revive the property for a second time. But in 2011, director Rupert Wyatt backtracked to the present day with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and began what is commonly referred to as the “Caesar Trilogy.” The films are centered on the future simian leader, portrayed by Andy Serkis, from his start learning how to communicate with his human masters (Rise of Planet of the Apes), to teaching what he has learned to his fellow apes (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), all the way to his climactic tragic heroism as he leads his species into a new age while a virus relegates the majority of human survivors to mute, dimwitted animals (War for the Planet of the Apes).

Now director Wes Ball has entered into the conversation with Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. Best known for his handling of the successful Maze Runner trilogy, this latest installment takes place untold generations after Caesar’s death. It revolves around an entirely new set of characters, notably Noa (Owen Teague), the young chimpanzee son of a revered Eagle Clan elder. After his entire tribe is abducted by a mysterious and violent sect of masked apes utilizing an electrified weapon, he vows to do whatever it takes to bring every single one of them back home.

What follows is a traditional hero’s journey, with Owen having to strike out on his own and overcome seemingly impossible odds to accomplish his task while also learning important life lessons along the way. Here, however, Ball and screenwriter Josh Friedman (Avatar: The Way of Water) refuse to take it easy on either their characters or the audience. No one is “all good.” Not even the hissable villain, the power-mad ape calling himself Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), could be considered “all bad.” The human element, initially introduced in the form of a pint-sized hellion (Freya Allan) whom Noa and the selfless orangutan Raka (Peter Macon) nickname “Nova,” has a secret agenda that could put the lives of the entire Eagle Clan in jeopardy.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024) | PHOTO: 20th Century Studios

This allows for a moral complexity that the majority of big-budget Hollywood productions go out of their way to avoid. But as this has been a trademark of The Planet of the Apes even before it became a hit motion picture — and goes all the way back to the 1963 publication of author Pierre Boulle’s groundbreaking novel — we shouldn’t be shocked. Ball and Friedman keep things emotionally grounded while also ensuring that events reside in perennial shades of gray. Nothing is easy. No choice comes without risk, a devastating downside, or the potential for outright disaster. Everything anyone does, primate or human, will echo into eternity.

But the filmmakers don’t skimp on the fun, wonder, or excitement. If the Ceasar Trilogy reset the bar for motion-capture performance in a photorealistic setting, this latest saga involving the Eagle Clan and humanity’s last surviving elements who retain the use of their higher brain functions ascends to breathtaking, unforeseen heights. Much like last year’s The Creator, the line between computer-generated visual effects, practical sets, and human characters disappears entirely.

Suffice it to say, Ball and his talented technical team have outdone themselves. An opening sequence following Noa and his best friends Soona (Lydia Peckham) and Anaya (Travis Jeffery) as they climb to the upper echelons of their domain to find eagle eggs is a mesmerizing triumph. But it only gets better from there. Each sequence outdoes the next: there’s a magnificent human roundup that pays homage to the original Planet of the Apes (complete with a cameo by Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic score); a death-defying face-off on a crumbling bridge made out of decaying steel girders, frayed netting, and rotting tree branches; and a frenetic chase through a human weapons silo quickly transformed into a waterlogged deathtrap. It’s all sensational.

The performances are also universally outstanding, especially the ones by Teague, Macon, and Durand, and while none quite achieve the award-worthy brilliance Serkis brought to his trilogy, what they each accomplish is no less extraordinary. There’s also a wonderfully sly turn by wily veteran William H. Macy, his arrival adding a comedic, if still chilling, jolt of anarchy that caught me by surprise.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024) | PHOTO: 20th Century Studios

I guess it should be noted that it isn’t altogether unexpected where everything ends up. Something could also be said about how strangely out of place the makeup, hairstyling, and costuming of Allan’s character are (she frequently looks like she just stepped off of the pages of a youth-centric fashion magazine’s “dystopian” issue). Then there is the blatant setup for further entries, and while there’s nothing that could be construed as an outright cliffhanger, personally I’d have still preferred a bit more narrative restraint as far as the brief epilogue was concerned.

Not that I can say any of that bothered me too much. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is an excellent entry in this long-running series. It takes the franchise in a new, intriguing direction (don’t expect Taylor to be making an appearance any time soon), and I’m excited to discover where things go from here for Noa and his clan.

– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)

Leave a Reply