Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes – Film Review

For millennia, humans were the dominant force on planet Earth, reaching new heights in technological advancement and distancing themselves from their prehistoric ancestors. Their hubris led to the unintended spreading of a mind altering virus which, while increasing the intelligence of apes, decreased that of mankind. The years following saw the rise of a leader of apes Caesar, one who sought peace between the species.

Many generations later, Caesar has passed away but his legacy lives on amongst some. A new world is born with different ape tribes living in the ruins of the old. Noa (Owen Teague) is the brave son of the leader of the Eagle Clan. Living peacefully, they use their flying companions for hunting and gathering. This is until one day, when a chance run in with a human woman, Mae (Freya Allan) begins a series of events which puts Noa and his tribe in peril. Humans have become feral over the years but there’s something about Mae which is different…

A raiding party under the command of Proxima Caesar (Kevin Durand) soon enslave the Eagle Clan. Proxima has warped the lessons of his namesake and uses that power to control other apes. Seeking to increase his tyranny, Proxima covets human knowledge and weaponry. Joining forces with Mae and another ape named Raka (Peter Macon), Noa begins a journey to rescue his clan. He’ll learn the true history of this fallen world, but can mankind and ape truly live in peace?

Beginning in 1968, the Planet of the Apes film franchise has been long lasting and has seen many iterations. From the film which gave us possibly Charlton Heston‘s most iconic role, to Tim Burton‘s misguided remake, it has remained a staple of film history. Between 2011 and 2017, a prequel trilogy, through the eyes of an ape named Caesar, showed the downfall of our world and the rise of theirs. With this new fourth film director, Wes Ball further bridges the gap in time between the reign of Caesar and the world seen in that of the original ’68 classic.

This is something I appreciated greatly about the “Caesar trilogy”, its world building and portrayal of a dystopian future in the making. There were always human characters fighting the oncoming tide of extinction, although we know they inevitably fail. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes begins far further into that dark fate yet doesn’t fully expand on it as well as its predecessors.

Things start out fine with ape clans of this new world clashing over their ideals. Kingdom of the Planet of the apes shows how Caesar‘s once peaceful teachings have been bastardized over generations. In the building of empires, even the most noble causes can be twisted to serve nefarious means. Unfortunately, the second half of the film feels like it is retreading old ground. The “Can man and ape coexist” question has already been asked in previous films and we already know the depressing answer.

The issue stems from what I’ve found the major problem with all of these prequels in the franchise: the ape characters are simply more interesting than the humans. Noa‘s journey here is an intriguing one going through personal growth and having his simple view of the world challenged. Through Raka, he learns of Caesar‘s true teachings but through Proximus he sees the corruption of those words and the power that it leads to.

By comparison, Mae is a fairly boring character who is difficult to ever truly empathise with. Her story is largely illusive, only delivered through dialogue, while said dialogue feels too “modern”. Not at all representing of the near 300 year leap into the future that this is supposed to take place in.

But where Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes succeeds is in its franchise’s continued brilliant advancements in visual effects. As the apes themselves have evolved, so has the technology used to render them. While 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes featured impressive effects for its time, this film is altogether something different. Completely CGI characters look solid while their fur looks… believably fluffy. 

The advancement in motion capture also allows for incredibly expressive performances which help to draw us into these computer generated characters even more. Macon as the ape Raka being a true standout and just a joy to watch whenever he is on screen. While Durand‘s portrayal of Proximus brings us an extremely terrifying and charismatic leader.

Although Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes may not quite stick the landing as far as story is concerned, more interested in setting up sequels than truly building the world,  this was still a hugely entertaining film, full of action and great ideas. It also features some of the most impressive visual effects that I’ve ever seen in a movie this side of Avatar. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is another strong instalment in this epic film franchise.

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