The Promising 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes' Doesn't Quite Reign Supreme

Directed by Wes Ball

Starring Owen Teague, Freya Allan, Kevin Durand, Peter Macon, Lydia Peckham, Travis Jeffery, William H. Macy

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios

BY Rachel HoPublished May 10, 2024


The Andy Serkis-helmed Planet of the Apes reboot is arguably one of the greatest trilogies of all time. The innovative use of motion capture transformed cinema, but what carried Caesar and Koba's arc to the standing it currently enjoys was its storytelling. In a new standalone sequel, Wes Ball's Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes continues the tradition of stunning visuals, but falls just short of the storytelling expectations Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeves set before him.

Set "several generations" after the events of 2017's War for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar's bloodline has thrived and sustained over the centuries. The world is dominated by primates, while the human population has been decimated and forced into hiding. However, as the primates grow in domination, they break into various factions, including an eagle-oriented clan that trains birds and uses their rearing as part of the coming-of-age traditions for their youth.

Noa (Owen Teague), son of the eagle clan's leader, and his friends, Soona (Lydia Peckham) and Anaya (Travis Jeffery), are preparing for their coming-of-age ceremony when another clan acting in the name of a Proximus Caesar (Thunder Bay-born Kevin Durand) attack. In battle, Noa is separated from his clan and goes on a mission to find them ,coming across Raka (Peter Macon), an intelligent orangutan, and a human woman whom they name Nova (Freya Allan).

Serkis joined Kingdom as a consultant, helping the actors, many of whom had never done any motion capture previously, find their rhythm and perfect their body work. Between Serkis's guidance and the fantastic performances of the ensemble, the film doesn't miss a beat in terms of the visual depiction of the story. Teague, Durand and Macon in particular create a true cohesion between human and ape.

The most engaging storyline of the film comes from the legacy of Caesar and how he has become more myth than ape. For many, he's simply a storied name; for some, he's akin to a religious idol to whom primates owe their gratitude, and all should live by his teachings; for others, he's a symbol that acts of terror and enslavement can be justified. There's a lot of interesting threads to pull at in considering Caesar through the lens of hero worship, but Ball only tugs at this idea rather than completely unravelling it.

Instead, Kingdom rests upon the burgeoning conflict between humans and primates. And while that story compels in the moment, by the movie's end, there's nothing to hang our hats on as an audience, as we've already seen this story play out exceptionally well within this world. Had the earlier films not been as successful, perhaps a rehashing of this concept would be fresh — but, as it is, Ball sets himself up to follow in the footsteps of that trilogy, rather than forging a separate path.

That being said, there's more than enough within Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes that piques my interest, and it's worth reminding that Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the first film of the Serkis trilogy, stands as the weakest of the three films, even though it's an incredible movie on its own. Fingers crossed that, in hindsight, Kingdom will similarly serve as the space for a filmmaker to find his footing in this world, and future films will propel Noa onto a pedestal all his own.

(20th Century Studios)

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