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May 10, 2024 / 20th Century Studios

Starring: Owen Teague, Freya Allan, Kevin Durand, Peter Macon, William H. Macy

Directed By: Wes Ball

Set several generations in the future following Caesar's reign, apes are the dominant species living harmoniously and humans have been reduced to living in the shadows.

As a new tyrannical ape leader (Kevin Durand) builds his empire, one young ape undertakes a harrowing journey that will cause him to question all that he has known about the past and to make choices that will define a future for apes and humans alike.

Written By Darren Zakus

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a stunning visual marvel from start to finish that will no doubt be one of the most beautiful looking films of the year thanks to incredible visual effects and outstanding motion capture work all tied together by a grand cinematic framing, and while it is an entertaining experience, it does not quite measure up to the high standard set by the preceding trilogy of films.

Andy Serkis reinvigorated the Planet of the Apes franchise with a truly remarkable trilogy of films chronicling how the apes gained their higher intelligence and became the dominant species over humans. With his sensational performance as Caesar, the leader of the apes, that was worthy of multiple Academy Awards, Serkis brought back one of the oldest science fiction franchises in Hollywood to general audiences with an emotional, thrilling and insightful trilogy that ranks among the best trilogies of this century alongside The Lord of the Rings and The Dark Knight trilogies. To no one's surprise, the studio wanted to continue the series, this time moving the story forward multiple generations after Caesar's passing and exploring our world dominated by apes, akin to the world audiences were first introduced to in the original 1968 film. There is no denying that Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a wonderful feast for the eyes with some of the year’s best visual effects work used to bring this world to life, and while the story follows the natural extension of the trilogy before it and plays with intriguing themes and ideas, it remains an enjoyable film but one that does not capture the brilliance of what came before it.

Picking up generations after Caesar’s passing, Caesar has become a messiah-like figure for the apes. With varying interpretations of his story and what he stood for, and different uses of that knowledge, audiences find themself in a world where different clans of apes are divided. The dominant ones use Caesar and his teachings like a fanatical religion, while humans cannot speak and are treated like wild animals. It is here that we meet Owen Teague’s Noa, a young ape trying to rescue his tribe from Kevin Durand’s tyrannical ape leader Proximus Caesar in this coming of age-esque tale. On his journey, he meets a young human woman and an elder ape who preaches Caesar’s learnings and beliefs, which opens up to discoveries about his world and their past with the human race that hold grave consequences for the future of both.

The film never lets the audience forget the importance of Caesar, but it's done in a way that fans of the previous trilogy will see the thematic trends continue while newcomers can easily follow the story and will be told everything they need to know without having seen any of the other films in the series. However, the themes explored lack the emotional depth that allowed the previous films to resonate so strongly with audiences. Instead, the more episodic story overstays it welcome and suffers from some minor pacing issues (it would have been a much tighter film if it had been about twenty minutes shorter in my opinion) with slightly underdeveloped character arcs that feel rushed in the film’s final act, despite some wonderful world building that immerses you in the story. By no means is it a bad film, as it is an enjoyable summer blockbuster spectacle that does entertain on the big screen, but for me personally, it is not a film that created the desire for multiple rewatches and left me emotionally torn apart like the previous two Matt Reeves films did. In terms of the franchise’s future, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes works as a solid standalone film, but there are enough plot threads left open to further explore this world in future, and should the story continue, I am thoroughly intrigued to see where it goes next.

If you have seen any of the films from the preceding trilogy, you know that the Planet of the Apes franchise is synonymous with outstanding visuals, and Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes continues that trend. The motion capture work to translate the actor’s facial expressions and body movements to bring the apes to life is nothing short of outstanding. The visual effects work is some of the best in recent years, with a cast of largely fully CG characters yet there is not a single moment where you don’t believe the apes are real, especially during the climactic third act set piece which is just a jaw-dropping visual whirlwind. In terms of the world itself, it is beautifully designed to weave the remnants of human society with the natural fauna of Earth, allowing each set to add a sense of wonder to the film. And it’s all captured by cinematographer Gyula Pados, who has previously worked with director Wes Ball on The Maze Runner trilogy, delivering some truly stunning moments that will leave the audiences with gorgeous frames in their mind long after the credits finish rolling.

Filling the void left by Serkis is no easy task, but the new cast does a wonderful job in their performances and carry on Serkis’ legacy as Caesar with some remarkable motion capture work. Teague is excellent as Noa, bringing a nuanced approach to his character learning about the larger world around him. His inquisitiveness is the audience's gateway into the film, learning with Noa along the way about the world beyond his village, doing wonderful physical work to capture his character’s emotional state throughout the film and guides the audience at the same time. Freya Allen is a force to be reckoned with as Mae, the young human girl that Noa meets along his journey. The presence she brings to her character without uttering a single word is remarkable, commanding the screen as Serkis did for much of his films, only further rounding out Mae as her abilities are further explored in the film’s second and third act. In every scene, Allen is a powerful force to be reckoned with, creating a multifaceted character that you instantly are drawn to, but one that is a mysterious enigma with an agenda of her own to keep you guessing as to what her ultimate objective is. But it is Durand who steals the film as Proximus Caesar. Compelling and towering over every scene he is in, there is a noble and regal quality to Durand’s performance that has you both in awe of his leader, while at the same time being fearful of how far his control and influence expands. It’s a difficult dynamic to balance, but Durand does so with an ease that allows for a truly formidable villain to emerge for the film’s final act.

I have no doubt that audiences are going to enjoy Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes as it is a good film; but whether it is as universally as loved as the preceding trilogy is going to be up for debate over the coming weeks. There is no question that the direction the story takes is the right narrative thread for the film to follow as it both plunges the audience into an exciting new chapter in the franchise while honouring the legacy of Andy Serkis and Caesar throughout, but it feels like this film came to quickly following the release of War for the Planet of the Apes and could have benefited from a few more years to let the story further develop and to distance itself from the remarkable works of Matt Reeves. Even with that in mind, it is a glorious day to be a fan of the Planet of the Apes series thanks to the strong leading trio of performances from Owen Teague, Freya Allen and Kevin Durand and direction of Wes Ball, that when combined with the awe inspiring visual wonders the film’s creative team have conjured up, results in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes being an exciting and intriguing summer blockbuster to experience on the big screen.

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