KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES movie poster | ©2024 20th Century Studios

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES movie poster | ©2024 20th Century Studios

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Owen Teale, Freya Allan, Peter Macon, Kevin Durand, Lydia Peckham, Travis Jeffery, William H. Macy, Neil Sandilands
Writer: Josh Friedman, based on characters created by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
Director: Wes Ball
Distributor: 20th Century Studios
Release Date: May 10, 2024

It’s not necessary to be familiar with any of the previous PLANET OF THE APES films to engage with the new KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. However, here’s some context.

Fans of the original 1968 PLANET OF THE APES, based on Pierre Boulle’s novel, will thrill to certain callbacks in KINGDOM to that source. That film gave rise to BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970), ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971), CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972), and BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973). Unlike most movie sequels of that era, these were serialized, with events in each installment laying the groundwork for the next.

After a 2001 remake of PLANET didn’t do well, the franchise lay dormant for a decade. Then, in 2011, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, which in some ways was a remake of CONQUEST, was released. This was written by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, who are both producers on KINGDOM. RISE was followed by 2014’s DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, a quasi-remake of BATTLE; this was also scripted by Jaffa & Silver. The story of RISE and DAWN’s main character, the chimpanzee Caesar (the spectacular Andy Serkis), came to a conclusion in WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017). While WAR continued the narrative of its immediate predecessors, it was not a remake. Instead, it broke new narrative ground as it continued to chronicle the rise of an ape civilization as humans descend into feral muteness, thanks to the spread of a lab-created virus.

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES begins with Caesar’s funeral. An onscreen title informs us that what comes next is “many generations later.” We are introduced to young chimpanzee Noa (Owen Teale) and his best friends Soona (Lydia Peckham) and Anaya (Travis Jeffery) as they embark on a rite of passage.

We see that Noa’s village makes sense in ape terms, with vertical, plant-covered structures and dwellings ideal for a species that is comfortable with climbing. We also see that most of the structures are layered around the remains of human-made towers, though the apes have no idea that humans have ever been anything other than food-stealing animals.

The apes communicate in a combination of spoken word, sign language, and old-fashioned simian hoots. Noa’s community is insular and largely incurious about both the past and the outside world, though everyone gets along without any sort of law enforcement.

It is perhaps best to go no further in the plot description, beyond noting that Noa soon must go on a quest. Directed by Wes Ball from a screenplay by Josh Friedman, based on characters created by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, KINGDOM has pleasures that include discovering each new twist and complication as it arrives. This is science fiction in its truest sense: a story that is based on a variety of scientific possibilities (however improbable). It’s also a classic grand adventure in sweep and scope.

The motion-capture performances of Teale and his colleagues, especially Peter Macon and Kevin Durand, are nuanced, powerful, and as easy to appreciate as those of live-action actors. All uncanny valley problems with eyes have been conquered, so that facial expressions convey every conceivable emotion.

The production design by Daniel T. Dorrance is beautiful and ingenious, showing us the repurposing of many locations so we can see what they were, what they have become, and infer the transition process. At key moments, John Paesano’s score pays spine-chilling homage to Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-nominated music for the 1968 film.

Like almost all PLANET OF THE APES films, KINGDOM mixes character development with metaphors about religion, the obtaining and maintenance of power, social and political interactions with others both like and unlike oneself, and much more.

Here, one comes away with perhaps more questions than usual about what the filmmakers intend to say. Still, KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has more than enough of the original PLANET OF THE APES essence to cheer longtime fans, while succeeding with merits of its own.

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