Film Review: Eagles Dare in “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes”

kingdom of the planet of the apes 2024 - movie poster one sheetThere are few more iconic scenes in science fiction cinema than Taylor (Charlton Heston) pounding sand in front of a half-buried Statue of Liberty at the end of the original Planet of the Apes (1968). The story posits a future Earth where humans have become mute and primitive, while simian races have become the dominant species on the planet. Gorillas want to dominate through power and violence, but the smarter chimpanzees wonder if their mute human slaves are related to the creators of decrepit buildings and ancient tech that’s beyond anything the simians can create.

It’s a brilliant examination of power and racial politics during the height of the Vietnam War and resonated with audiences, going on to become a huge hit. It beget four sequels that quickly became banal and cheesy, with decreasing budgets and box office results. In 2001 Mark Wahlberg and director Wes Ball tried to reboot the franchise, but this remake of Planet of the Apes also fell flat on its face. In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes reconsidered the story, offering an engrossing story of a scientist (James Franco) seeking a cure for Alzheimer’s and inadvertently creating something that increased the intelligence of its monkey lab subjects. It also turned humans mute and stupid, as explained in one of the most ingenious closing credit sequences in modern cinema.

It found the success that 2011’s attempt couldn’t, and spawned two fairly speedy sequels: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes. Zoom forward to 2024 and the fourth installment of the second reboot delivers Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. A tired story that’s run out of steam? Hardly. Turns out that “Kingdom” is surprisingly good.

“War” ended with the death of uber-monkey and simian leader Caesar (motion capture by Andy Serkis), who famously stated “Ape not kill ape. Apes together strong!” but as so often happens with the words of a leader years later, his ideas have been subverted by the power-hungry Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand). The film starts with likable chimp teen Noa (Owen Teague) and his pals preparing for an important coming of age ceremony. When Noa follows interloping human Mae (Freya Allen), he finds himself far out of the camp in the middle of the night where it’s more dangerous than he realized. Noa later heads to the forbidden region and meets Raka (Peter Macon), a wise old Oragutan who shares his memories of the old days. Noa is entranced. They entice Mae to join them and the trio heads toward Proxima’s kingdom where things are quite far from idyllic.

kingdom of the planet of the apes 2024 - publicity still

Noa (Teague), Mae (Allen), and Raka (Macon), from “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes”

At this point, the film drops into a familiar trope of a gentle group being forced to fight for their identity against a tougher and more powerful group, though it’s peaceful chimps versus controlling gorillas, with the few humans mostly as an entertaining novelty. True to the franchise, there are powerful, advanced technologies on the other side of an enormous vault door and Proximus is eager to break through and utilize it for his plans of greater domination. Whatever it is.

Director Wes Ball and cinematographer Gyula Pados have created one of the most lush and beautiful post-apocalyptic landscapes in modern cinema and it’s just gorgeous. The costume and prosthesis+CGI design is also excellent, thanks to Weta Labs, and all of the simians are entirely believable as creatures who wear clothes, walk upright, and speak. Indeed, the first thirty minutes pass without a human showing up on screen, and it’s almost an hour into the film before there’s meaningful interaction between humans (called “Echos” by Noa’s tribe) and apes. Ultimately, however, the film is about the on-again, off-again interspecies relationship between Mae and Noa.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes also serves as a respite from the endlessly violent and tense War for the Planet of the Apes, a chance to explore concepts that mirror the original film; tribes versus larger groups, species-ism as a stand-in for racism, belief systems, and especially the wisdom of prophets can be subverted by people who seek power and control. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some exciting action sequences, including high-speed chases through the woods and chilling, violent fights, but Kingdom is more visual and more cerebral than most of the series, a reminder of the smart writing of the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Recommended.

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dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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