‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ is sweet, epic

Apes battle as audiences grapple with history, supremacy and legacy in 20th Century Studios’ newest sci-fi offering.


“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” is the latest film in the legendary science fiction franchise. (Disney)

When 20th Century–Fox — now Studios — first debuted “Planet of the Apes” back in 1968, it is safe to say that few could have predicted that the franchise would still be running strong over 50 years later. This is due in large part to the groundbreaking 2011 reboot “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and its masterful sequels, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014) and “War for the Planet of the Apes” (2017).

The 2010s trilogy set new standards for motion capture and VFX work, bolstered by a powerhouse performance from Andy Serkis as the chimpanzee Caesar. In the first film, Caesar — through a lab test for Alzheimer’s disease gone awry — slowly evolves to lead an ape rebellion as the seeds are planted for the collapse of humanity from a deadly outbreak.

In the following films — which span decades — Caesar grows to become a leader, fighting for peace between humans and apes while renegades within his community and human survivors and soldiers on the fringes of society seek to claim his throne.

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” picks up nearly 300 years later. Caesar is now a legend. Apes now live in clans, and any remaining humans have either gone into hiding or have gone feral. Even the word “human” is initially foreign to our lead Noa (Owen Teague), the son of the leader of the Eagle clan. When a war-hungry tribe attacks and abducts Noa’s village, he sets out to bring them home.

Facing off against tyrannical king Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), who has no relation to Serkis’ character but is using Caesar’s name to justify abuse and slavery in the name of progress, Noa is joined by a wise orangutan and a young human girl who Proximus chases as they uncover secrets about the past and fight for a more just future for apes and humans alike.

Director Wes Ball, who is most known for “The Maze Runner” series, is right at home in his dystopian, post-apocalyptic sandbox. The worlds of “Kingdom” are visually breathtaking and meticulously designed at every corner.

Leads Teague and Durand deliver impressive and deeply committed motion capture turns as apes Noa and Proximus, respectively. Teague has the innocence and glimmer of a hero coming of age, and Durand is mighty and menacing. Their dynamic is meaty and satisfying to watch as the story unfolds.

Whereas the scores for “Dawn” and “War” hearken back to melodramatic war epics and Shakespearean tragedies, John Paesano’s music in “Kingdom” opts for a more understated and traditional action-adventure approach.

With that, the emotional core of “Kingdom” is more straightforward and primal — no pun intended — than its predecessors. The drama and heart of the film lives in the shadows of Caesar’s towering legacy. It’s a far simpler journey and story, and though it does not resonate as emotionally or aggressively as its predecessors, it is still very thematically rich and timely in its own right.

At this point in the history of Earth, is humanity still a being or merely a feeling? Writer Josh Friedman — who worked on the story for sci-fi blockbuster “Avatar: The Way of Water” (2022) — wrestles with how the same histories and gods can be used to justify war and peace across time. How can Caesar, whose story can be read as a literal biblical allegory, be the beacon for ape independence and self-determination as well as ape imperialism and supremacy so many generations later?

Once upon a time, Caesar’s code of honor declared, “Ape not kill ape.” But how do the apes of “Kingdom,” now fully evolved members of society, live with that law when there are no more human enemies to fight? When the lands and resources being hungered for by the apes only belong to each other, where can the power struggle end? Can scripture and legend be rewritten for the sake of the future?

Such heavy, messy questions quietly rest at the beating heart of this film. The moral dilemmas of “Kingdom” are more felt than said and more shown than told when compared to films like “Dawn” and “War,” but they are still just as relevant.

The film is slow and long, clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, but when the story gets going, everyone is strapped in for the ride. It is more of a fun movie than one would expect, and patience in the first hour is rewarded in epic fashion in the second half. “Kingdom” finds many moments to sweep viewers off their feet.

The ape-human dilemma and parallel might just be perpetual. Anyone can and should leave the film equally as curious and concerned about what is in store for the politics of the fictional ape world as they are for the real world today.

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