Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024, dir. Wes Ball)

by | May 10, 2024

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 145 mins

UK Distributor: 20th Century Studios

UK Release Date: 9 May 2024

WHO’S IN KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES?

Owen Teague, Freya Allan, Kevin Durand, Peter Macon, William H. Macy, Travis Jeffrey, Lydia Peckham, Neil Sandilands, Eka Darville, Ras-Samuel Weld A’abzgi, Sara Wiseman, Dichen Lachman

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Wes Ball (director, producer), Josh Friedman (writer), Joe Hartwick Jr., Rick Jaffa, Jason Reed and Amanda Silver (producers), John Paesano (composer), Gyula Pados (cinematographer), Dirk Westervelt and Dan Zimmerman (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Many years after the reign of Caesar, an ape-ruled kingdom comes under threat…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES?

Before Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out in 2011, many were decrying the favouring of motion-capture effects over the traditional heavy make-up that previous entries had become known for. Of course, much like said make-up, the photo-realistic motion-capture effects have now gone on to be among the most acclaimed aspects of the entire franchise, to where it’s arguably become a bigger selling point than the recognisable actors recruited for significant roles.

The technical achievements of these films, particularly the recent ones from Rise to its immediate sequels Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes, and now to director Wes Ball’s latest entry Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, are undoubtable. Beyond the fact that these effects are extremely convincing, the amount of physicality and vocality that goes into creating each one of these individual apes, by actors performing under heavy mo-cap gear, is a true marvel to watch, for you can feel the dedication of every single performer as much as you can the love and care from each effects artist that brought these apes to life.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes no doubt continues this trend of the effects being the true star of this newly revitalised series. So much so, in fact, that certain other aspects, including storytelling and character development, tend to fall behind in ways that don’t make it bad, but not quite as strong as previous entries.

The film begins many generations after ape revolutionary Caesar led his fellow intelligent simians to freedom, after a man-made virus practically eradicated human civilisation, rendering the remaining few far less intellectual and much more feral. With Caesar and his comrades now long gone, our hero this time is Noa (Owen Teague), a young chimpanzee who belongs to a clan of apes who train eagles and live peaceful lives.

However, an attack on Noa’s village, by a rival ape clan claiming to be doing it in Caesar’s name, prompts the young ape to head out on a journey to reclaim his tribe, who have been captured by a tyrannical bonobo that calls himself Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand). Along the way, Noa encounters a mysterious human named Mae (Freya Allan), who is noticeably smarter than most of the other wild homo sapiens, and learns about the legacy of the real Caesar, who envisioned a world where apes and humans lived together, a vision that is now being twisted by radicals like Proximus in the present.

There are a number of interesting topics that Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes touches upon here, specifically how Caesar and his compassionate teachings are treated almost like a religion by various apes, with each sect having their radically different interpretations of what the revolutionary taught. You have someone like Proximus Caesar waltzing in like an evangelical preacher, proudly encouraging his namesake’s mantra of “apes together strong” but twisting it in a way that benefits nobody but him, while everyone else is left weakened.

During his journey, Owen Teague’s Noa also encounters an orangutan named Raka (Peter Macon) who belongs to another tribe that takes Caesar’s teachings purely to heart, proudly displaying his symbol like it’s a crucifix. I suppose to call him a “monk” would be a bit too on-the-nose, but that’s basically what Raka is, as he adopts a more literal take on what Caesar left behind while the more dictatorial Proximus is exploiting it for personal gain. Neither of them, though, are on the exact same wavelength as Caesar himself, and it’s intriguing to see how both factions play into their beliefs while not entirely nailing it on the head.

The film also has a more adventurous spirit than recent entries, which brings it closer to the spirit of the original run of films from the late 60s onwards. Wes Ball, who takes over from previous directors Matt Reeves and Rupert Wyatt, has a strong grasp on world-building that makes it quite an experience to explore, as we glide over abandoned moss and grass-covered buildings, which to these present apes might as well be sturdier climbing trees, and travel across this barren country landscape all the way to the sandy shores.

Much of the film was shot on-location, with the cinematography capturing some striking shots that add an impressive expansion to this world, while John Paesano’s musical score emphasises it epic nature, making it all feel much more real than if it were all done on a soundstage (not to mention that, in parts, you could almost view this movie as Ball’s sizzle reel for his upcoming filmic take on The Legend of Zelda).

As stunning as the film looks, and as fascinating as its ideas are, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes ultimately struggles to build as much intrigue with its story and characters as previous Planet of the Apes movies. The absence of a truly fantastic main character like Caesar is deeply felt here, for while the protagonists are likeable enough, they are nowhere near as interesting, or even as well-rounded, as the former ape leader. The same goes for the cut and dried villains, particularly Proximus Caesar who, despite a charismatic performance by Kevin Durand, isn’t a particularly domineering threat, or at least one that you can easily see ruling an entire kingdom with extraordinary might.

It also has severe pacing issues, with certain scenes going on for much longer than they need to, even after the point has long been drilled in, and you can feel exactly where and when it desperately needed to be trimmed down. This extends to the conclusion of the film, which without spoilers sets up more movies to come in this timeline, for it is one of those endings that tends to stretch out its dramatic impact, well after the point where it should have cut to black.

Though it is not on the same level as previous films in this series, at least on a scriptural level, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes carries enough promise for future instalments, and proves that this series, unlike its long-suffering humans, is not yet headed towards extinction.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a decent expansion of the relaunched franchise, which continues to boast some stunning visual effects and interesting ideas, but it falters in comparison to the complex characters and overall storytelling of previous entries.

Three out of five stars

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