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Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes kicks off a new trilogy

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes kicks off a new trilogy
Raka (played by Peter Macon), Noa (played by Owen Teague), and Freya Allan as Nova in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. (Photo: 20th Century Studios)

Matt Reeves’s Planet of the Apes films are masterpieces of modern sci-fi cinema. Can new director Wes Ball recapture that magic with a new story set hundreds of years later?

They say those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. Hollywood adheres to a much more succinct alternative to that famous old adage: “Learn history. Repeat it.” As much as this chronic franchise regurgitation irks some, Hollywood occasionally gets it right. It just all depends on what was learnt.

When Tim Burton rebooted the classic 1960s Planet of the Apes franchise back in 2001, what he had seemingly learnt from history was “Ape costumes, plot twist”. That’s it. Fans yelled for him to take his hands off the franchise immediately. When director Rupert Wyatt and writers Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa took another swing at a reboot in 2011 though, they had learnt well from history, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a huge hit.

What Wyatt and his team learnt is that at the core of that original far-fetched tale about a future society ruled by intelligent apes after humanity had devolved into near Neanderthals were several in-depth treatises on the human condition. Morality, compassion, honour, the horrors of war, social acceptance, love – that’s what made these stories resonate for decades. 

When filmmaker Matt Reeves continued this rebooted tale with his two masterpiece follow-ups, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes, he elevated things even further, narratively and technically, to give us arguably the best Hollywood sci-fi trilogy of the modern age.      

Director Wes Ball kicks off a potential new Planet of the Apes trilogy with a movie that’s definitely enjoyable but a bit too beholden to its superior predecessors. (Photo: Supplied / 20th Century Studios)

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes features some solid new character additions to this cinematic world, intriguing plot developments, strong performances and jaw-dropping VFX work. (Photo: Supplied / 20th Century Studios)

Planet of the Apes

Soona (played by Lydia Peckham) and Noa (played by Owen Teague) in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. (Photo: 20th Century Studios)

And now here we are, seven years after Reeves wrapped up the hugely emotional and epic tale of proto simian leader Caesar, with another Planet of the Apes film. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is not a reboot but a sequel, as new director Wes Ball – with the returning writing duo of Silver and Jaffa – tells a tale set “many generations later”. This is a time where, ironically, history has mostly been forgotten. 

When the audience meets Noa (Owen Teague), a young member of the bird-rearing Eagle Tribe of apes, he and his people do not even know the story of Caesar. Silver and Jaffa do, of course, and want to keep reminding us of it.

As Noa’s encounter with a human girl named Mae (Freya Allen) sets into motion a series of tragic events which force him to venture far outside the only world he knew, one can’t help but continuously see the similarities of what came before. A young ape hero, thrust into a conflict he did not ask for; a wise orangutan companion advising the hero; a young girl whom the apes come to care for; and an adversarial ape, hungry for power, who will do anything – even kill his fellow simians – to get it. It echoes just a smidge too much, and it takes until the final act before the filmmakers break away to take the big narrative swings the franchise has always been known for.

Despite that familiarity, Noa is certainly no Caesar. Although starting with strong emotional roots, his arc is simply not as well developed. Instead, it’s Mae’s mysterious backstory that continually intrigues, while Raka (Peter Macon), the last of a group of learned orangutans who remember Caesar and revere his teachings almost religiously, steals nearly every scene he’s in with his affable charm. Even Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), the vicious ruler of a group of apes who has twisted his namesake’s words to his own ambitious ends, gets a more memorable showing than our intrepid hero.

Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand) in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. (Photo: 20th Century Studios)

Raka (played by Peter Macon) in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. (Photo: 20th Century Studios)

Noa (played by Owen Teague) in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. (Photo: 20th Century Studios)

This lack of depth is not just resigned to Noa but pops up in a few other places in the script. Silver and Jaffa tackle all the relevant narrative talking points that have been a staple of this franchise, and throw in a couple of new wrinkles as well, but the story doesn’t always have all the meat needed for maximum nourishment.

It could though. 

By the end of the film’s two-hour-plus runtime, there are some interesting ideas hauled out. This is clearly just the opening chapter of what the filmmakers plan to be a new trilogy, and this writer is very much on board with seeing where Noa’s tale goes, as it already goes to some interesting places here. In fact, despite some of the perceived negativity in this review till now, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is far from a bad film.

Much like the previous trilogy, this latest movie is a technical marvel and the thrice-Oscar nominated VFX work to bring these apes to life is still in full staggering effect. The motion capture work from the actors is also uniformly superb, with digital animation bordering on the supernatural, perfectly selling every single emotional beat with shocking realism. As the main human cast member, Allen also delivers. Mae is a character far more complex than initially perceived and the young actress handles it well.

Freya Allan as Nova in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. (Photo: 20th Century Studios)

Meanwhile, Ball, who made his name with the action-heavy Maze Runner series, brings a surprising deftness to his direction. While he’s definitely no Matt Reeves, with a few dramatic beats feeling a tad unearned, Ball acquits himself admirably in the end. He also films this post-apocalyptic world beautifully, offering staggering nature cinematography as he opts for on-location shooting seamlessly blended with digital effects.

The result overall is a solid new entry in this celebrated franchise that sets up a very intriguing future. Yes, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, with its monkey-see-monkey-do scripting and new lead Noa being upstaged by the characters around him, is not as overtly magnificent as its predecessors, but if there’s one thing apes can do well, it’s climb higher. DM

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. Image: Supplied / 20th Century Studios

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes was released on 10 May in cinemas, including IMAX.

This story was first published on Pfangirl.

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  • Conrad Hennig says:

    Surely you can put this ape lot, Spiderman, Batman, and Captain Marvel into one massive end-battle for 5 hours flat and then that’s it. Fienish en Klaar. I mean seriously. Enough now

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