Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

  • 25 May - 31 May, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

When Rupert Wyatt's 2011 prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes revived a five-decade-old franchise – one that spanned books, films, TV series, and comics since the '60s – it did so with a refreshing commitment to a powerful, timeless story: simple but not simple-minded, deeply emotional but far from corny.

The film’s Ape protagonist Caesar has led that story through the two sequels, both of them elegantly directed by Matt Reeves –2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes. Raised by James Franco’s caring human hands in the first film, Caesar quickly broke through the classist and discriminatory human world’s self-destructive greed in the trilogy and claimed his deserving place as the leader of his kind, while a manmade virus made Apes smarter, and robbed humans of their intelligence and speech abilities, nearly eradicating mankind.

As a whole, the trilogy became perhaps the finest franchise of this century, standing tall against the loud, bloated mega-verses and unexpectedly reminding us what we want from big-budget, sequel-minded Hollywood: something thoughtful, entertaining and insightful about who we are and aspire to be. The new film, The Maze Runner director Wes Ball’s brilliant Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, walks securely in the footsteps of this recent legacy, wearing the Caesar-centric films’ values like fairness, loyalty and communal solidarity on its sleeve with pride.

Ball confidently puts forth a film that is exciting and visually articulate in its action pieces as it is thoughtfully coherent in its plotting. In Kingdom, there is not a single wasted idea or scene that feels randomly introduced without a soundly rewarding payoff that deepens and completes story. In other words, here’s a film – well, a franchise – where you see smart writers and filmmakers at work towards bringing things full circle, not meeting rooms dedicated to soulless fan-servicing.

The tale of Kingdom is set generations after the events of the “War,” after the time of Caesar. Young chimpanzees Noa (Owen Teague), Anaya (Travis Jeffery), and Soona (Lydia Peckham) of the Eagle Clan climb massive heights at the start of the film so that Noa can find an eagle egg of his own per his clan’s rituals and bond with the majestic bird over the years like the elderly of his world. After a beautifully shot, eventful escapade nearly costing him his life, the fearless Noa manages to claim his egg from a nest.

But when a mysterious human – Freya Allan’s feral and mercurial Mae – who is tailing him accidentally breaks it, Noa sets off to find a new one, unintentionally making his peaceful home base a target of the villainous masked apes led by Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand). Twisting Caesar’s dignified teachings and wise words like “Apes Together Strong” and building an army to one day possess the secrets to the technology humans have left behind generations ago, Proximus destroys Noa’s village, kills his father, and hunts down Mae in his quest. Throughout these nail-biter cat-and-mouse sequences, immersive cinematographer Gyula Pados’ camerawork is impressive and spine-tinglingly exciting, crafting large-scaled action that is heart-poundingly tense, and more logically constructed than what we often see these days.

After a lovely interlude when Noa meets a lonesome orangutan and learns about the real Caesar as a strong, moral, and compassionate leader, the young ape and Mae find themselves in Proximus’ captivity along with other enslaved members of the Eagle Clan, including Noa’s aforementioned buddies. At a windswept and ocean-battered base next to a locked vault that humans have evacuated, there is also William H. Macy’s Trevathan, an intelligent, Vonnegut-reading human tasked to teach Proximus everything he knows about the human ways.

Gradually and throughout a stunning third, the film plants the seeds of even further chapters to come, renewing its thematic queries around whether inter-species peace could ever be achieved. But perhaps more importantly, the pronouncedly anti-gun and anti-violence Kingdom explores the concerns and catastrophes of the modern world smartly and thoughtfully within its construct. Are there times that necessitate the abandonment of pacificism? Are we learning the right lessons from our past, if we’re learning anything at all? Why can’t we all get along?

To be clear, Kingdom doesn’t have the answers. But you can bet your bottom dollar that this rare, deeply cinematic Hollywood franchise won’t stop digging until we get a little closer to knowing.