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Review: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

Directed by: Wes Ball

Premise: Set several generations after the events of War for the Planet of the Apes. An ape village is razed and its inhabitants are taken captive by the warriors of a far-off colony. The survivor (Owen Teague) follows their trail in the hopes of freeing his loved ones.

What Works: At their best, the Planet of the Apes films have mixed popcorn entertainment with smart storytelling and political commentary. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes follows that tradition and it is one of the better entries in the series. The movie is primarily about Noa, a young ape on the verge of adulthood, who is forced to journey outside the place he grew up and discovers that the world is a bigger and more complicated place than he realized. That’s the strongest element of the film and it’s instructive to compare Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes to Avatar: The Way of Water. Both movies are fantasies about motion-capture-created characters journeying to new places and facing systems of exploitation and domination but Kingdom does it so much better and more interestingly. The characters of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes are flawed and complex. Noa pairs with a human woman named Mae (Freya Allan) but their alliance is tenuous. Even the chief villain, an ape named Proximus (Kevin Durand), has some nuance; he’s more than a mustache twirling villain and some of Proximus’ misgivings about human are ultimately vindicated. Like its immediate predecessors, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes looks great. The filmmakers have created a vivid world and the digital and physical elements blend seamlessly. The digital characters are not distracting; the fact that they are an effect never distracts from the performances which are very expressive. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes includes homages to classic Apes films, especially in John Paesano’s music score, but without being obnoxious about it.

What Doesn’t: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes can never shake the feeling that we’ve seen a lot of this before. Some of that is deliberate, such as the homages to the original 1968 picture, but Kingdom also repeats scenarios and relationships seen in the Caesar trilogy. The filmmakers don’t do enough to shake up the formula. That’s especially evident in the ending in which things mostly go back to the way they were; it negates the characters’ growth and their discoveries about the world. Some really interesting ideas are not developed. In War for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar achieved messianic status and Kingdom imagines that unscrupulous ape leaders have used Caesar’s name and memory in exploitative ways. It’s a provocative idea that’s not really followed anywhere meaningful.

Bottom Line: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a worthy addition to this series. It’s a little too creatively conservative; it does not introduce many new elements or advance the story world. But it’s well made and the filmmakers succeed in establishing a new starting point for future stories.

Episode: #996 (May 12, 2024)