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Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Review

May 10, 2024 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES Image Credit: 20th Century Studios
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Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Review  

Directed By: Wes Ball
Written By: Josh Friedman, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver
Runtime: 145 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence/action

Owen Teague – Noa
Freya Allan – Mae
Kevin Durand – Proximus Caesar
Peter Macon – Raka
Lydia Peckham – Soona
Travis Jeffery – Anaya
Eka Darville – Sylva
William H. Macy – Trevathan
Neil Sandilands – Koro

The time of Caesar is over, but the saga of Planet of the Apes continues. Filmmaker Wes Ball picks up the storyline hundreds of years later in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. Ball’s vision introduces a whole new set of characters and sets a brand-new storyline into motion that shows strong potential.

The previous films exceptionally realized the Ape characters as the main protagonists, and in the new film, Wes Ball maintains that style that Matt Reeves worked so exceptionally well in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes. Ball’s story creates a coming-of-age story following a young ape, Noa (Owen Teague). The son of Chief Koro (Sandilands), Noa seeks to live up to his father’s expectations and find an eagle egg for their clan’s ritual bonding day. The ape tribe lives in peaceful tranquility, raising eagles to help catch their fish.

Unfortunately, the Eagle Clan’s peace becomes disrupted by the arrival of a wayward human, or “echoes,” as the apes refer to humans, who are hunted by a clan of hostile ape warriors. They murder Noa’s father and take the rest of his family and clan prisoner, all in the name of their tyrannical ruler, Proximus Caesar (Durand). Surviving the sacking of his village, Noa must now go on a journey to find and rescue his tribe. Along the way, he is joined by the mysterious human scavenger, Mae (Allan), a human who still can speak and maintains her higher intelligence. Noa also receives help in the form of a sage-like orangutan, Raka (Macon), a scholar of the Order of Caesar, who seeks to follow the teachings of the original Caesar, whose memory has been twisted by Proximus and his followers. Unbeknownst to Noa, the human Mae has her own motives, as she knows ancient secrets and knowledge that Proximus desires and could potentially endanger the planet now ruled by the apes.

As a sequel to a long-running franchise that dates back to the 1960s, Ball and his writers are due credit because they do something interesting with the plot’s significant leap in time. The previous three films did a superb job creating a compelling story following the Caesar character, with the Caesar films presented as prequels to the original. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes weaves a gripping narrative exploring the legacy of Caesar hundreds of years after his passing, when he has essentially become a legend among his descendants and later generations. At this point in history, some young apes, such as Noa, have never even heard mention of Caesar or know of his legend, while others, such as Proximus, use the name of Caesar to enforce their tyranny and the subjugation of peaceful apes.

All the material surrounding the ape characters and the development of ape society following the fall of human civilization works incredibly well. Ball crafts an emotional coming-of-age story surrounding Noa, who must now find the courage to become a leader of his clan and follow in his father’s footsteps. Ball excels in creating a high level of immersion into the world. The motion-capture CG effects have always been a strength of this franchise since they enhance the experience rather than overpower the narrative. The visual effects artists, combined with the exceptional performances of the actors, create an insane verisimilitude with the highly intelligent, evolving apes. The motion capture effects featured throughout the film interact in an extraordinary manner with the live human performers and the practical environments.

The drawback of the script is the human subplot involving Mae, whose presence adds significant intrigue to the story, but the mystery surrounding her character is far less satisfying. The human characters feel shoehorned into Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. The franchise struggles to shift away from the human element, which now acts as a crutch. The revelations behind Mae’s intelligence are far-fetched and weaken the overall experience. The reveals also raise many questions about the direction of future films and how the writers will tackle these issues. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes succeeds so well in presenting the apes as compelling characters that the humans are rather mundane by comparison.

Elsewhere, Ball does well in treating the subject matter seriously. In addition to the impressive level of immersion he provides for his story, Ball succeeds in making his vision grandly epic. That said, the film features an uneven pacing. It takes too long to reach Proximus’ domain and give Proximus his formal introduction.

As a continuation of a long-running franchise, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes proves effective by introducing a new set of characters and exploring Caesar’s legacy left on a world now ruled by apes. The promise of future films returning to the ape versus human conflict feels far less exciting than the main conflict in this film. However, it will be fascinating to see where the franchise goes from here, and whether something fresh and new can be achieved. There is plenty of room left for multiple franchises and branching story paths if the goal is to reach an ape society more familiar to the one depicted in the classic 1968 feature.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes does exceedingly well as a sequel to a long-running franchise, introducing new characters to explore the idea of Caesar's legacy long after he's gone. Director Wes Ball presents a grand vision depicting the coming-of-age story for Noa, treating the material with a compelling seriousness while also enforcing the incredible immersion established by the previous franchise installments. However, the human storyline becomes the weak link of the experience, and it appears to be the hook for future sequels. While the franchise has succeeded in transforming the apes into genuinely compelling characters, the humans seem far less enthralling by comparison.