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  • Nate Adams

'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes' review: Primates still rule the world

Courtesy of 20th Century Studios/Disney


The “Planet of the Apes” franchise, now on its tenth (!) installment, is the saga that keeps on giving. These movies aren’t known for robust box office numbers and they don’t necessarily live in the zeitgeist beyond their run in theaters, but each time one is made, and the new entry is no exception, I’m always geeked (“Oh a new ‘Planet of the Apes?’ cool!") as technology has come a looong way since Tim Burton’s ill-fated 2001 reboot (Paul Giamatti is the goat) and the way it can be used to enhance the story is the stuff all great summer blockbusters are made of. Evident by the recent “Apes” trilogy that ended with 2017’s gangbusters “War for the Planet of the Apes.” 


Now we return “many generations later” with Wes Ball’s thrilling “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” the first installment in at least three decades where humans (at least for the time being) aren’t the primary antagonist. It’s a worthy continuation in a franchise that some may say peaked when Andy Serkis was leading the way playing Caesar, a God-like figure who kickstarted the revolution in 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” But akin to its predecessors, “Kingdom” deals with weighty themes regarding the evolution of primates and aims to bring huge ideas into a major summer blockbuster. Some of them land better than others, but the universal theme of strength and resilience in the face of the unknown is what gives this latest adventure its wings. 


While you don’t need to catch-up or do any leg work before diving in (although, I highly suggest you seek out the previous three films), “Kingdom” picks up the torch hundreds of years following the events of “War,” which ended with Caesar saving his clan from the clutches of an evil warlord played by Woody Harrelson. As he lay dying, his right-hand ape, Maurice made the promise that future generations will know his legacy. That’s sort of true as “Kingdom” follows a young chimp named Noa (played via motion capture performance by Owen Teague) who hears about Caesar in hushed whispers and secondhand accounts of a time where humans and apes (gasp!) lived in harmony. Times, however, have changed and all he knows is life in his village and the strict rule of law set forth by the elders, which forbids apes from venturing beyond the limits of their colony. 


Noa’s peaceful life is tragically upended when a mob of masked apes attack and burn down his home and leave him for dead. On his journey to retrieve his friends and family, he crosses paths with a wise orangutan named Raka (Peter Macon) who foretells about the legend of Caesar and preaches his merciful viewpoints to anyone that’ll listen. They also meet a young human woman named Mae (Freya Allan), who is tackling her own agenda that has to deal with infiltrating a kingdom run by the villainous Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand - having a helluva year). 


Proximus runs a coastal kingdom of apes and has stolen the Caesar name and twisted his words to make a legion of kidnapped simians use their strength to crack open a large vault that’s allegedly filled with human technology that could give primates another leg up in the evolution food chain. It’s a simplistic story that’s clearly been made to jumpstart a new series within the “Apes” universe and, honestly, give me a new entry every other year and I will happily show up. Screenwriter Josh Friedman (who helped usher in “Avatar: The Way of Water”) methodically employs patience when revealing major story arcs and allows them time to unearth themselves. And Ball, who helmed the sci-fi banger “The Maze Runner, is a textbook craftsman who directs with confidence. 


As with the other “Apes” films, the main draw, once again, is the pristine motion capture technology that’s a marvel of technical wizardry. You can see every facial expression, emotive glance, or angry snarl with the utmost precision and accuracy. Aside from “Avatar,” it’s the most effective use of the technology on a major scale and helps make these films feel larger than life. During an intense, emotional sequence, Noa’s saddened, heavy eyes are more human and authentic than half of the performances that’ll come out this year. It’s a travesty Serkis was never nominated nor even considered for an Oscar. 


At 145 minutes, “Kingdom” clocks in as one of the longest installments and it’s exposition-laden third act is a little trying, not to mention it’s themes on legacy and coexistence aren’t exactly groundbreaking for this series, but nonetheless it ends up being an effective and fulfilling sequel that solidifies this franchise has plenty to offer and can still evolve when it matters most.  


Grade: B+ 


KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is now playing in theaters.


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