Review | Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes | 2024

Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios' KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Set hundreds of years after the events of 2017's War for the Planet of the Apes, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes finds Earth now firmly in the grasp of ape dominance, with humanity reduced to a mostly non-verbal population of scavengers living in the wilderness. The apes, once led to liberation by Caesar (Andy Serkis), now live in separate nation-states, with tribal warlords attacking other settlements to consolidate their power.

In the centuries since his death, Caesar has become a kind of messianic figure for the apes, and as such, his "teachings" have been interpreted in wildly different ways by various factions. Taking center stage in this new film is Noa (Owen Teague), a young chimpanzee whose village is kidnapped and forced into slavery by Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), a despotic warlord bent on prying open vault once designed to protect governments during the fall of mankind. As he follows the trail of Proximus' minions, Noa meets a human woman named Mae (Freya Allan), who has secret motivations of her own, as they work together to end the reign of Proximus Caesar and prevent him from claiming the wealth of human knowledge and technology contained within the ancient vault.

Filmmaker Wes Ball is a newcomer to the Planet of the Apes franchise, having previously directed only the three Maze Runner films, a series that ran from 2014 to 2018, but he holds his own. The previous three films, directed by Rupert Wyatt (The Gambler) and Matt Reeves (Clovefield, The Batman), respectively, set a high bar for contemporary studio tentpole filmmaking. Thanks to groundbreaking motion capture technology and Andy Serkis' tremendous performance as Caesar, they contained some of the most spectacular visual effects ever seen on film. While Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes doesn't quite maintain the same sense of gravity as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes, what hasn't been lost is the impressive quality of the special effects, which remain just as eye-popping as ever. 

Because of those effects, the new Planet of the Apes is one of the most handsome-looking studio blockbusters in recent memory, at the very least since James Cameron's Avatar: The Way of Water (2022). It's not breaking any unique ground and its story follows a familiar hero's journey structure, but it's clear that great care was taken in crafting this world, the characters are strong, and the stakes feel grounded. Most interestingly, the idea that Caesar's revolution, as seen in the previous three films, has sparked a religion that has splintered into sects is very compelling; and while it begs for a more in-depth exploration than it ultimately gets, the idea that even those whose interpretation of Caesar's words hews closest to their spirit are missing key historical context that has been lost to time is a surprisingly nuanced idea for a film of this magnitude. 

It may not be quite up to the level of the trilogy from which it spawned, but Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is nevertheless a solid continuation that upholds the series' reputation as one of the most consistently strong modern blockbuster franchises, and it doesn't show any signs of running out of steam quite yet.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES | Directed by Wes Ball | Stars Owen Teague, Freya Allan, Kevin Durand, Peter Macon, William H. Macy, Eka Darville | Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence/action | Now playing in theaters nationwide.


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