Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

The first Planet of the Apes debuted in 1968, but it’s very much a franchise suited for our current CGI era. Instead of burying actors under layers of makeup, computers can create photorealistic animals that give the films a sense of visual authenticity original director Franklin J. Schaffner could never have even conceived. This long-running franchise has now been entrusted to The Maze Runner’s Wes Ball. His effort, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, offers a cool take on the material, minimizing the human element and maximizing the idea of simian dominance.

The plot is set decades after the end of War for the Planet of the Apes and connects to prior events. Marauder apes are led by Proximus (Kevin Durand), who has taken all the wrong lessons from late chimpanzee leader Caesar. He thinks the expression “apes strong together” is a call to conquer. That’s exactly what he does, having his troops enslave entire villages of chimps, including that of Noa (Owen Teague). Now left alone, Noa teams with orangutan Raka (Peter Macon) and one of the few remaining humans, Mae (Freya Allan), to rescue them. Doing so requires gaining access to a bunker left behind by humanity, the contents of which are unknown but presumed valuable by Proximus.

Whereas most of the previous Apes installments had a fair number of human characters, Kingdom is different. Ball and writer Josh Friedman are interested in the concept of apes versus other apes. Drama is mined from the idea that, having overtaken the human species, the apes now fall into their own warring factions. Caesar promoted living together in unity; Proximus, on the other hand, believes in sovereignty. That clash of ideals sets up several dramatic confrontations in the story, and since we don’t know for sure if Mae is trustworthy, there’s added suspense.

Action scenes in the movie are thrilling, as they spring naturally from the plot. A scene where the characters make a perilous climb – with Mae riding on Noa’s back, no less – has a dizzying effect. A horseback chase is similarly exciting, as is the big finale involving the opening of that bunker. The CGI here is better than ever, creating apes that look absolutely real. Incredibly, the FX team manages to keep the intimacy of the actors’ motion capture performances. For example, having seen Owen Teague in other movies, including the excellent Montana Story, I was able to recognize that Noa’s eyes are his eyes. The emotion-laden facial expressions he and Durand made during filming are incorporated right into the visuals.

Although a solid entry in the series, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t quite live up to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes. Those films, directed by Matt Reeves, really delved into metaphorical aspects of the premise, exploring themes of politics, prejudice, military leadership, the battle over Earth’s natural resources, and more – themes that used apes to reflect the world around us. Ball has made a good commercial action picture. While perfectly enjoyable, Kingdom lacks the grand ambition that allowed Reeves’ work to connect at a higher level.

The ending does suggest avenues for more sequels, so perhaps bigger goals lie ahead. For now, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes succeeds at establishing a compelling new lead character and inserting him into a rousing adventure. Having been captivated by the Apes saga since childhood, the movie has enough promising material to keep me invested in where it will go next.


out of four

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence/action. The running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes.

Universal

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan