‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ Review: Sincere Storytelling Returns

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Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024) © 20th Century Studios

There was some trepidation towards Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, the tenth film in a 56 year-old franchise, especially when the previous three installments were so narratively satisfying. Thankfully, with new characters and a compelling story, there is a justified existence here that extends beyond financial gains.

★★★★✰

“What a wonderful day!” bellows a tyrant primate to his loyal followers. He’s not wrong: the sun is streaking and waves are crashing against the rusted hulk of a beached cruise ship in which hundreds of chatty apes call home. Among this number, but decidedly not at home, is a human girl and a young ape, both of whom have journeyed far together to find this seaside ape resort, and now seek to liberate its prisoners. This is Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth instalment of the rebooted franchise, and this time the humans are truly a minority.

It has been seven years since the triumphantly meditative War for the Planet of the Apes was released, closing the story of Andy Serkis’ Caesar in an emotionally resonant fashion. In franchise terms, it has been several hundred years, with numerous ape clans now existing in peaceful isolation. They have all been practising Duolingo too, as everyone in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is fluent in English—gone are the days of sign language and subtitles. Humans are seemingly mythic, with most of them now mute scavengers whose primitive existence resembles the apes in our current world.

Young ape Noa (Owen Teague) is a good egg with a headstrong attitude. Son of the Eagle Clan chief, he soon finds his world upturned after a brutal attack by mask-wearing, cattle-prod-wielding enemy apes who seem to be fighting “for Caesar.” Similar to War, the new protagonist embarks on a cross-country quest to find his captured friends and family. En route, he picks up two allies: Raka, a likeable orangutan played by Peter Macon and his mellifluous voice, and Mae, a human girl played by Freya Allan (in what must be a tough acting job interacting with men covered in ultra-tight spandex). At journey’s end is the charismatic new villain, Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), who has homogenised ape clans into an ape kingdom to ensure the dominant survival of their species. 

The mirage of performance and computer effects is seamless, with Teague, Macon and Durand all giving highly expressive motion-captured performances that are so believable it is easy to forget that most of the screen is digital. The absence of Andy Serkis is initially felt, but the legacy of Caesar is one of the main themes of the film. It asks a sound question: what if a mythical leader’s teachings are passed down to be twisted and dangerously re-engineered by people with a different ideology? The alliance between Noa and Mae acts as a microcosm for the ape-human divide, leaving an open-ended answer as to whether a symbiotic relationship can exist or if the two species are destined to compete. For the sake of the franchise’s future, the latter looks more likely. 

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024) © 20th Century Studios

The Planet of the Apes has quietly endured as one of the most underestimated of all the surviving franchises. By refusing to abide by a franchise formula, each film feels connected yet separate. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes provides enough backstory and explanation for its own story to work independently of the other three; the franchise has never demanded its audience to do some homework before heading to the cinema. 

Moreover, the refreshing sincerity of the series continues here. The patience in the storytelling and character development is one of the film’s strengths as each new player feels earnest and real, keeping with the Shakespearean dynamics between the factions that Matt Reeves introduced in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. By building the characters first, then introducing the story, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes has a natural flow that many contemporary blockbusters seem to avoid. That the action and the humour stems from the need of the story or the character is a crucial structural lesson for others to learn from. 

By not being action-packed, the film makes every action sequence matter. There are vertiginous climbing scenes, a fiery nighttime raid, and a highly involving hunting sequence in which humans are chased across the woodland by apes on horsebacks, swinging lassos and bolas like hairy cowboys. It is a taut sequence, with director Wes Ball of The Maze Runner films showing a great eye for visual effects and story payoff. 

In the pandemic years, James Cameron, Tom Cruise, Chris Nolan and Denis Villeneuve all redefined cinema outings by making loud, proud films that elevated the cinema into the equivalent of going to a concert. In doing so, lighter films cannot compete with that experience—a shame considering the appeal of Kingdom’s ‘soft’ spectacle, with cutting-edge CGI largely passing invisibly by. It almost feels refreshing to see a non-IMAX designed blockbuster where the focus is on character over obvious technical merit, exhibiting a firm reminder that the cinema makes all films better experiences.

Accruing a runtime that pushes the two-and-a-half hour mark, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is the chubbiest of the franchise. Material can be cut here and there, but there is a narrative drag towards the end of the second act. Whilst Proximus is an enjoyable villain who manages to stand out in a franchise that contained Koba and a bald Woody Harrelson, scenes without him leading up to the third act could do with a tightening in the edit room. Still, the more time spent with the heroes the more cathartic some of the final scenes are, with great villain deaths awaiting. Ball’s addition to the franchise is a worthy successor that honours the legacy of the previous three without trying to desperately reach for their greatness. Caesar, Maurice and Rocket may be missed but, in another film’s time, Noa will be just as beloved. 

The Verdict

New characters shine in a formally well-executed film that suggests there are plenty more compelling ideas for an ape-dominated planet to host. Far more mature than 2024’s other big ape film, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is intelligent and rewarding. What a wonderful day indeed. 

Words by Jacob Hando

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


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