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kingdom-apes.jpg

'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes' Waters Down Its Predecessors

By TK Burton | Film | May 11, 2024 |

By TK Burton | Film | May 11, 2024 |


kingdom-apes.jpg

You’re going to read a lot of review quotes saying that Wes Ball’s entry in the rebooted Planet of the Apes series, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes “breathes new life into the franchise.” This is entirely inaccurate. Kingdom, the fourth entry that comes on the heels of the surprisingly contemplative and almost serenely gripping War of the Planet of the Apes, doesn’t tread new ground as much as it simply chooses to change the overall tone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it hardly does anything revolutionary.

The biggest change it makes is to move the franchise generations into the future, into a world that is more akin to the original 1968 film. The apes have taken their place as the dominant species, while humans have been rendered mostly mute, living in wild, nomadic packs as a scavenger species. Kingdom focuses on the ape Noa (Owen Teague), a young ape on the verge of adulthood whose tribe lives peacefully in the wild, raising eagles and wary of the world outside their lands. Soon they are invaded by a ruthless clan of conqueror apes led by the cruel and ambitious Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand in his second terrific performance of the year after the underrated Abigail), an ape who took his name from the main character of the first three films. Yet instead of a wise and fair leader, he has corrupted Caesar’s legacy and become determined to break into an ancient human structure that he believes will grant him the power to become king of ALL apes.

Noa begins a quest to find his captured tribe and is quickly joined by Raka (Peter Macon) and an intelligent human named Nova (Freya Allan of The Witcher fame). What follows is a video game-esque adventure, as the trio follows the signs of Proximus’s army. The film borrows heavily from everything from Lord of the Rings to The Last of Us in its imagery and iconography, as the three travelers wander through a beautiful, albeit post-apocalyptic world filled with lush flora that has been slowly overtaking the vestiges of humanity over the passing generations. Indeed, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is often at its best during these quiet moments, in thanks particularly to a moving performance by Macon’s Raka as a philosopher/historian who teaches Noa about Caesar and the world as they move through it.

When the group lands in the hands of Proximus, the tone quickly shifts into a more action movie-style story, and in many ways that’s its weakest point. While Durand does fine work as Proximus as a charismatic, brutal leader (bellowing “WHAT A WONDERFUL DAY!” in an almost Mad Max-styled fervor), and serves as a great antagonist, he’s not given enough time to really render an impact as the film suddenly speed runs through its conclusion. This is especially odd since the film is long — at almost two and a half hours, it’s curious to see it spend the first three-quarters of that on its hero’s journey, only to explosively barrel through the actual central conflict.

It is a hero’s journey though — almost generically so. While there’s lush imagery and the same remarkable motion capture that the other films had (though lacking in a great physical performance like Andy Serkis’s Caesar), the story itself isn’t particularly new or interesting. It becomes the same kind of “young man finding the strength to become a hero” tale that we’ve seen countless times, only this time the young man is an ape.

Wes Ball was a curious choice to direct this film. Famous for the Maze Runner series, he follows two fantastic entries from Matt Reeves and the remarkable Rupert Wyatt-directed original, and he isn’t quite up to the task

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is about 80% enjoyable, but it’s far from great and it doesn’t so much “breathe new life” as much as it waters down the intelligent, thoughtful stories of its predecessors. It’s a fine film and easy on the eyes, but in some ways, we might have been better served by letting the franchise simply conclude with the last story about Caesar. Instead, we start anew with a new world, but this one is missing that sense of madness and wonder that all the prior ones had. It’s surely a successful journey for its hero, but not quite a fitting next chapter in Caesar’s legacy.