Friday, May 10, 2024


 by Rob DiCristino

In which a beloved series gets its third wind.

When Battle for the Planet of the Apes opened to negative reviews and middling box office returns in 1973, conventional wisdom likely concluded that the series had run its course. Audience goodwill from the original film had been exhausted, producers had sufficiently squeezed every last dollar out of its iconography, and we were all ready to move onto the latest and greatest attractions the silver screen would offer next. And yet our cultural memory endured and our Apes affections persisted long enough to forgive Tim Burton’s ill-conceived 2001 remake and approach 2011’s reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes with a sense of cautious optimism. We were prepared for a new entry, but would Rise continue the franchise tradition of socially-conscious sci-fi? Would the new CGI apes lack the charm of the prosthetic originals? Could James Franco convincingly play a well-meaning man of integrity and humility? Not only would Rise meet those challenges (well, maybe not Franco), but the ensuing trilogy would reinvigorate the series with new characters, themes, and iconography of its very own.
Set “many generations” after Caesar led a united ape population to peace in War for the Planet of the Apes, Wes Ball’s Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes rejuvenates the series yet again, offering a thoughtful and innovative Apes adventure for a whole new era (era). The fall of mankind has given way to a massive ape diaspora, with groups like the adolescent Noa’s (Owen Teague) Eagle Clan forming culturally-distinct civilizations all over the globe. Named for their symbiotic relationship with eagles — a signature rite of passage requires youngsters to pluck eggs from the tallest trees and nurture the baby birds to maturity — the clan lives in Neolithic peace until hunters from a brutal tribe led by Proxima (Kevin Durand) burn their homestead to the ground in pursuit of a human scavenger named Mae (Freya Allan). Noa survives the initial fray, resolving to find the hunters’ village and avenge his father’s (Neil Sandilands) murder. Along the way, he joins forces with Mae and Raka (Peter Macon), a wizened “lawgiver” ape who cites Caesar’s teachings as if they were holy writ.

Artfully designed and boasting motion-capture effects that are sure to have James Cameron shitting his irascible knickers, Kingdom gracefully synthesizes the questions of evolution, technology, civics, and philosophy that have come to define the series with an archetypal hero’s journey narrative that — while never earning points for originality — sets up effective new stakes and introduces engaging new wrinkles to the Apes universe. That universe is nothing without characters to populate it, though, and Kingdom delivers: These new apes are more defined, nuanced, and articulate than any who have come before, a feat complimented by Gyula Pados’ lush and often stunning close-up cinematography. Kingdom’s battle scenes may rank among the best of the series, but the real action is in the faces, with Teague and Macon delivering two of the most layered motion capture performances in recent memory. Noa lacks Caesar's gift for prognostication, sure, but he hardly needs it when Teague’s finely-shaded physical performance is captured in such impressive detail.
Just like Caesar before him, though, Noa begins as an innocent whose kindness and optimism are slowly corrupted through exposure to the avarice of those who seek to crush and conquer and rule. That wrath is embodied here by Proxima, a boisterous monarch who believes in Caesar’s dictum of “apes together strong” as long as that strength serves his personal interests. To wit: He gathers slave manpower (or ape power, I suppose) from weaker tribes in hopes of gaining access to a disused human military installation that houses enough technology and firepower to vault him full geological ages ahead of the closest competition. Revelations about this and other scattered human artifacts will eventually complicate Noa’s relationship with Mae, whose scrappy guile is clearly masking inherited knowledge about the legendary apocalypse and what role — if any — humans might still play in the future. Equal parts enigmatic and awe-inspiring, Kingdom’s ending foretells a coming conflict wrought with philosophical knots for human and ape-kind alike.
There’s quite a bit more to unpack here — including William H. Macy as Trevathan, a human collaborator who earns a place at Proxima’s court by reading him Kurt Vonnegut and Roman history, fueling his belief that apes should rule with violence as humans once did — but Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is more than worth unraveling those threads for yourself. Fans of the original Apes films looking for Easter eggs and cameos from the likes of Taylor or Dr. Zaius may be disappointed on that front, but they should also find a bit of comfort in the fact that their beloved series is in the hands of careful custodians like Matt Reeves and Wes Ball, filmmakers who seemingly refuse to pander to their audiences with that sort of easy nostalgia. Hell, the mere fact that a series on its fourth incarnation still has enough on its mind that we could be excited for the sequels its potential success might provoke feels a bit like found money in 2024. Now, it’s up to audiences to make that success a reality. We don’t want another Fall Guy situation on our hands, now do we?

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is in theaters now. For the love of god, go see it.


  1. Despite this glowing-ish review, i'm still cautiously optimistic about it. I really love the previous trilogy, especially Dawn and War, that it's almost impossible they'd ever live up to the hype i'm building in my head

    1. I was the same way! I'm not sure it's quite as good as Dawn, but if you're a fan of those two, I think you'll enjoy it.

    2. I’m also in this same boat. Dawn is honestly one of my favorite movies of the 2010s overall, so my hopes for the continued success and quality of this franchise are sky high.

  2. Great review! I too hope everyone goes and sees this in theaters.

    I was wary of Wes Ball taking over after Matt Reeves did such a phenomenal job with the last two. But I thought he knocked it out of the park. I was hoping for something at least as good as Rise, and was pleasantly surprised by how good this actually was.

    I'm a big fan of the original films too and it's fun to see this film hint toward some of those things, but not go overly into nostalgia as you said. I'm very much looking forward to seeing where the series goes next!