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  • Writer's pictureSaxon Whitehead

'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes': A Solid Evolution of the Long-Running Franchise

There is something so fascinating about the longevity of the Planet of the Apes franchise. Perhaps it is the ability for the series to evolve and adapt over time, or the sociopolitical themes at its core that has kept it relevant for so long. Regardless of the reason, the franchise has become rather reliable, despite some missteps here and there. The recent trilogy of films that was released in the 2010s has led to a bit of a renaissance for the series, and sparked new interest in it. While these films told a complete story, the franchise has such a large scale to it that more stories within its universe can easily be told. Personally, I figured it might be a bit longer until we saw any kind of continuation or reboot of the Apes movies, but only seven years after the most recent entry in the series, we get one. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is both a sequel to the 2010s trilogy and the beginning of a new story set several generations after the events of 2017's War of the Planet of the Apes. With new territory to be explored and a new director at the helm, one can't help but wonder how well Kingdom would fit into the franchise's legacy. Thankfully, it ends up being a worthy follow-up to the recent trilogy, and continues to expand the world of the franchise in intriguing ways.

Many generations after the events of War, a young chimpanzee named Noa (Owen Teague) lives life amongst a clan of apes who specialize in falconry. When a raider tribe destroys his village and abducts his family and clan, he embarks on a perilous journey to find them. Along the way, he joins forces with a wise orangutan named Raka (Peter Macon) and a human scavenger named Mae (Freya Allan). As they approach the tribe, led by an enigmatic Ape-King, Proximus (Kevin Durand), Noa confronts what he knows about apes and humans alike, and finds himself making decisions that could affect the future of the world forever.

As someone who really likes the 2010s trilogy (namely the two Matt Reeves directed entries), I really enjoyed how Kingdom builds on what was established in those films without feeling like fan service or coming across as a let-down. It honors what came before it, but also tells an exciting new story within the universe. It also feels perfectly in line with the style and tone of the previous films, using deliberately slow pacing to allow the exposition and narrative beats to properly soak in. It is interesting as the film manages to feel like a part of the franchise, but also feels like it is charting its own path in a way. It is clear that this is meant to kick off a new trilogy of Apes movies, and it does a good job of bridging the gap between what came before and where it is wanting to go from this point. The fact that it takes place hundreds of years after the last film honestly helps this, as it puts some distance between this and the last few movies while still acting as a continuation of them. It does get a bit caught up in establishing this new version of the world of the films, but there are some interesting details throughout, and it sets up some serious potential for future installments.

One of the things that is so fascinating about the Apes films in general is the relationship between apes and humans. The shifting power dynamics between them drive each entry in the franchise, and help provide various social and political commentaries in the process. What is interesting about Kingdom is that there is really only one major human character in the entire film, and that most of the fight for power in the film is between separate factions of apes. Of course, the humans do play an important role, as they are no longer seen as the dominant species, and Noa's relationship with Mae makes him rethink what he has been told about humans. But so much of the film's conflicts are between apes, leading to an interesting commentary on tribalism and misinformation. It feels rather relevant when you look at the themes of the film on a deeper level, and is a rather interesting touch. Beyond that, the seeds it plants in regards to how the dynamic between apes and humans might develop in future movies definitely has me curious to see where the story goes from here.

Probably the most impressive aspect of the film is its visual effects, which isn't so much of a surprise given the franchise's track record in this department. The CGI and motion-capture is especially great, as the apes are quite realistic looking. I also appreciate the production design, namely the forest sets and the ruins of human life from centuries before. The action is pretty solid as well, as there is an intensity to it that makes it hit hard. There is just enough danger that can be felt by the audience in these moments, and it gives the action sequences a big boost. The visuals in general are quite well-done, and the vast, massive world of the film is captured beautifully.

Andy Serkis's performance as Caesar in the last three films is easily one of the best motion-capture performances of all time, so the cast of this film definitely had some big shoes to fill. They are definitely up to the task, however, and put in some great work. The ape cast in general do a great job of physicalizing their respective roles, and are pretty dialed in throughout. Owen Teague does a good job of showing the arc of his character, Noa, in a way that isn't overly showy, and he makes for a decent new lead of the franchise. It is really easy to connect with the emotional side of his story, but I was left wanting a little more from the character. I do hope that we get to see more of him, assuming we get a sequel, as he show a ton of potential to grow and evolve with the character the same way Serkis did with Caesar. I really enjoyed Kevin Durand as the Ape-King Proximus, particularly the energy he brings to the film. He doesn't appear for quite a while into the film, but when he does, it changes the whole temperature of it. Durand has such a strong, confident presence in the film, and looms large over the back half of the film. He exudes powerfulness, and I was so drawn in by him every time he shows up. My personal favorite performance in the whole film is Peter Macon as Raka, one of Noa's confidants he meets on his journey. Macon plays the role with gentleness, and gives the film a bit of gravitas. He has a smaller role in the film at large, but man, does he make an impact with the scenes he's in.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is yet another great entry in the franchise, and certainly lays the groundwork for an exciting future for the Apes universe. I don't know if I'd say it is fully on the level of the Matt Reeves-directed films, but it comes awfully close. I do hope that director Wes Ball gets to make sequels to this film, as I can definitely see him building off what this film establishes quite well. Kingdom is such a great, natural evolution for the series, keeping in-line with the tone and themes of the previous films while telling a brand new story. If nothing else, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes further shows that the series is still reliably good, and that the future of the franchise looks very promising.

Rating: 3.5/5

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