Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Review: This Fourth Entry Barely Misses A Step

“Rise before dawn, start a war, and possibly win a kingdom.”

More than half a century after the Charlton Heston-starring Planet of the Apes became a pop cultural phenomenon that has, like the intellectually advanced apes at its centre, changed, adapted, and evolved to reflect changing times to multi-generational moviegoers. Minus the occasional missteps (Tim Burton’s woeful 2001 remake, Battle for the Planet of the Apes), the franchise’s longevity and viability are the direct result of storytelling rich in characters, themes, and world-building.

That quality comes not from unnamed studio executives hoping to wring the last dollar of revenue or profit from the Planet of the Apes IP but from the combination of writers, directors, and performers. And let’s not forget the behind-the-scenes production crew who’ve rightly perceived their contributions to the series as the equivalent of a sacred duty: Honouring what the first film and its subsequent entries accomplished between 1968 and 1973 while forging new, sometimes unexpected paths for the Caesar-centered trilogy that began in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Set roughly 300 years or “many generations” after War for the Planet of the Apes, the fourth entry in the rebooted series, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes shifts its focus from the long-dead Caesar, the apes’s Moses-like saviour, to a descendant (spiritual if not biological), Noa (Owen Teague, ably replacing Andy Serkis behind the motion capture suit). Young, impetuous, and insecure, Noa’s limited experiences extend to living as the son and uneasy heir apparent to a clan elder, Koro (Neil Sandilands), in an isolated enclave centred on farming and falconry.

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As part of his clan’s rite of passage, Noa and his two closest friends, Soona (Lydia Peckham), and Anaya (Travis Jeffery) venture out into a long-abandoned, nearby city, climbing steel trees and mountains to obtain the rare eagle eggs needed for an upcoming bonding ritual. Each will raise an eagle of their own. In turn, the eagle will become a lifetime companion to their primate owners. Pushing each other as teens, human and otherwise, to take potentially dangerous risks (Noa climbs the highest peak to obtain his eagle egg), they eventually return to their idyllic village and a life seemingly in balance with nature.

Of course, that doesn’t last long. Almost immediately, another, far more violent, conquest-obsessed clan appears, destroying the village, taking survivors captive, and leaving Noa for dead. The invaders are members of a coast-side clan led by Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), a bonobo obsessed with expanding his empire. And for that expansion, he needs slaves from neighboring clans, and a runaway human, Mae (Freya Allan), who may hold the key to literally unlocking a weapons vault left behind by long-dead, pre-pandemic humans.

Periodically repeating or echoing beats from earlier entries or familiar genre tropes, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes charts Noa’s growth from a responsibility-free teen on the cusp of adulthood and its attendant expectations to the de facto leader of his clan. That growth includes the usual hard-fought or hard-earned lessons in leadership, a physical/geographical journey from the remnants of his village to the coast, helped by Raka (Peter Macon), a wiser-than-wise orangutan who functions as guide, mentor, and friend, and finally, an uneasy alliance with Mae that challenges Noa’s worldview (among other things) and helps him learn about compassion and empathy across species.

It’s all good, sometimes even great. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, though, rarely hits the emotional highs of its predecessors, in large part due to the focus on Noa’s coming-of-age story, surface-deep exploration of themes better explored in earlier entries, and a sequel-ready ending that by necessity makes the fourth entry in the rebooted series feel rushed and incomplete. The last few minutes raise multiple unanswered questions, introduce new characters, and echoing the original series, set up renewed conflict between species that could result in the end of one or both.

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Still, for all of its narrative wheel-spinning in the final moments, it’s hard to argue with the visual results. After more than a decade, the combination of performers and motion capture has become all but seamless. It takes mere seconds for the audience to plunge back into the Apes-dominated world, the non-human characters have been designed with distinctiveness in mind, and the performances never feel less than “real” or authentic. Add to that vistas of a post-human world — specifically overgrown, reclaimed city-scapes and rusted, beached ships — and set pieces always on the right side of engaging, and it’s easy to conclude Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’s worthiness, if not always as a standalone entry, then as an addition to a franchise that repeatedly renews itself.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is in theatres now.



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