Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Review | The Son Also Rises

by Andrew Parker

An unabashed summer movie thrill ride, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes might lack some of the depth fans appreciated in earlier entries of this rebooted sci-fi series, but what it lacks in original substance it more than makes up for by having a really good time. With the reigns handed over to director Wes Ball (The Maze Runner trilogy) and screenwriter Josh Friedman (who received story credits on the most recent Avatar and Terminator movies), Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes tells a new story from within the world where primates are the supreme intelligent beings and the few humans left are feral savages. It retains the overall world that was previously built, but creates new characters and directions to take things in from here on out. It’s not a reinvention of the wheel by any stretch, but thanks to an assured point of view, outstanding performances, and a continuing tradition of boasting some of the finest visual effects in cinema today, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes remains captivating in the same way as some of the best popcorn movies.

Set quite some time after the most recent trilogy of films, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes concerns Noa (Owen Teague), a young, shy, but highly motivated ape out for answers and revenge after a band of marauding simians destroys his village, killing his father and taking many others (including his mother) hostage. Noa believes this assault is the direct result of a human interloper (Freya Allan) that’s been sneaking around, but the longer he continues on his journey and learns more about his species’ relationship to humans, the more he learns about the nefarious plans of the evil Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), a despotic tyrant who believes the young woman literally holds the key to unlocking the secrets of advanced evolution for apes. 

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a few different flavours at once, but they all work well together. It’s a revenge story, a quest movie, and even a bit of an espionage thriller thanks to the untrustworthy human element. None of these story elements are particularly original, and in some respects Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes feels like a safe return to basics, but Ball employs all of them in the grand tradition of the old school weekend matinee epic. While a lot of the Apes films from the 1970s were of dubious, declining quality, Ball’s film feels like a best case scenario sequel made in the original franchise’s tradition. The world is established, lived in, and nicely fleshed out with captivating characters and inventive action sequences. It doesn’t hit as hard emotionally or thematically as the more recent Andy Serkis starring films did, but Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes remains a transportive experience simply because it’s a good movie that’s doing nothing wrong outside of being a tad overlong. It starts fast, keeps moving at a good clip, and always gives the viewer something entertaining to watch, either viscerally or dramatically.

The motion capture visual effects of this franchise continue to astound and delight, and Ball finds new ways to push the capabilities of the technology at his disposal. The moss and vine covered remains of the old human world are now small touches amid the lush greenery. Noa’s journey takes him through a variety of stunning landscapes and dangerous pitfalls, perhaps none more jaw dropping than Proximus’ shoreline stronghold, complete with a decaying battleship. Some small seams can be found in the story’s addition of eagles and other birds into the mix, but thematically the addition of these creatures – which are trained by Noa’s people – add quite a bit to what the story has to say about forced evolution. And there are no notes to be given about the motion capture of the apes themselves. By this point, the effects wizards working behind the scenes have this down to an exact science, and it would probably take nothing short of a catastrophe for them to backslide in future instalments.

While there’s no real way of replacing what Serkis brought to the franchise with his acting contributions, Teague still carves out a lot of space for himself with a memorable, nuances leading performances. Teague balances Noa’s strength and social awkwardness with a deft hand, never leaning too far in either direction and making the character highly relatable. Teague also understands that a lot of Serkis’ performance came in the form of subtle expression and body language, making even the quieter moments for the character just as impactful. Durand provides a hulking, blustery counterpoint as the big baddie, William H. Macy does some nice character work as a snivelling, captive human who has given up hope and decided to aid Proximus’ campaign for global domination, and Peter Macon gets a juicy supporting role as the wise old ape who frets that his people have forgotten the teachings of the original Caesar. Allan gets saddled with a character that’s a bit more all over the place, and her performance is harder to modulate, but it’s fitting with her story arc of being potentially untrustworthy. 

Whether Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a launching pad to take the series in a new direction or simply a one-off designed to keep things going while plotting next movies remains to be seen. It works just fine on its own, but those hoping for an enriching of the overall series mythology could come away a tad disappointed. But audiences looking to kick off the mindless fun of the summer movie season with a bit of style and bombast should have a great time. It probably won’t linger long in the memory, but in terms of technical acumen and entertainment value, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes gets the job done and then some.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, May 10, 2024.

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