Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes


Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

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When Rupert Wyatt’s 2011 prequel “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” revived a five-decade-old franchise—one that spanned books, films, TV series, and comics since the ’60s—it did so with a refreshing commitment to a powerful, timeless story: simple but not simple-minded, deeply emotional but far from corny.

Portrayed via groundbreaking performance capture technology by Andy Serkis (delivering the kind of actorly nuance that shouldn’t have been overlooked by The Academy), the film’s Ape protagonist Caesar has led that story through the two sequels, both of them elegantly directed by Matt Reeves—2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Raised by James Franco’s caring human hands in the first film, Caesar quickly broke through the classist and discriminatory human world’s self-destructive greed in the trilogy and claimed his deserving place as the leader of his kind, while a manmade virus made Apes smarter, and robbed humans of their intelligence and speech abilities, nearly eradicating mankind.

As a whole, the trilogy became perhaps the finest franchise of this century, standing tall against the loud, bloated mega-verses and unexpectedly reminding us what we want from big-budget, sequel-minded Hollywood: something thoughtful, entertaining and insightful about who we are and aspire to be. The new film, “The Maze Runner” director Wes Ball’s brilliant “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” walks securely in the footsteps of this recent legacy, wearing the Caesar-centric films’ values like fairness, loyalty and communal solidarity on its sleeve with pride.

Like its predecessors, Ball’s sequel knows these principles don’t belong to humans exclusively—not in his highly imaginative sci-fi adventure, not in the real world where the animal kingdom lives by its own set of rules and ethics. And along with his screenwriter Josh Friedman (of the wonderful “Avatar: The Way of Water,” with which you will notice plenty of visual and thematic parallels here), Ball confidently puts forth a film that is exciting and visually articulate in its action setpieces as it is thoughtfully coherent in its plotting. In “Kingdom,” there is not a single wasted idea or scene that feels randomly introduced without a soundly rewarding payoff that deepens and completes story. In other words, here’s a film—well, a franchise—where you see smart writers and filmmakers at work towards bringing things full circle, not meeting rooms dedicated to soulless fan-servicing.

The tale of “Kingdom” is set generations after the events of the “War,” after the time of Caesar. Young chimpanzees Noa (Owen Teague), Anaya (Travis Jeffery), and Soona (Lydia Peckham) of the Eagle Clan—all also portrayed via performance capture—climb massive heights at the start of the film so that Noa can find an eagle egg of his own per his clan’s rituals and bond with the majestic bird over the years like the elderly of his world. After a beautifully shot, eventful escapade nearly costing him his life, the fearless Noa manages to claim his egg from a nest. 

But when a mysterious human—Freya Allan’s feral and mercurial Mae—who is tailing him accidentally breaks it, Noa sets off to find a new one, unintentionally making his peaceful home base a target of the villainous masked apes led by Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand). Twisting Caesar’s dignified teachings and wise words like “Apes Together Strong” and building an army to one day possess the secrets to the technology humans have left behind generations ago, Proximus destroys Noa’s village, kills his father, and hunts down Mae in his quest. Throughout these nail-biter cat-and-mouse sequences, immersive cinematographer Gyula Pados’ camerawork is impressive and spine-tinglingly exciting, crafting large-scaled action that is heart-poundingly tense, and more logically constructed than what we often see these days.

After a lovely interlude when Noa meets a lonesome orangutan and learns about the real Caesar as a strong, moral, and compassionate leader, the young ape and Mae find themselves in Proximus’ captivity along with other enslaved members of the Eagle Clan, including Noa’s aforementioned buddies. At a windswept and ocean-battered base next to a locked vault that humans have evacuated, there is also William H. Macy’s Trevathan, an intelligent, Vonnegut-reading human tasked to teach Proximus everything he knows about the human ways. Daniel T. Dorrance’s production design truly sings in these segments with the level of detail draped across the “Waterworld”-like ape settlement and the vault, once we finally get inside (albeit, perhaps a bit conveniently).

Gradually and throughout a stunning third act where the “Kingdom” unleashes some truly stunning “The Way of Water”-style visuals, the film plants the seeds of even further chapters to come, renewing its thematic queries around whether inter-species peace could ever be achieved. But perhaps more importantly, the pronouncedly anti-gun and anti-violence “Kingdom” explores the concerns and catastrophes of the modern world smartly and thoughtfully within its construct. Are there times that necessitate the abandonment of pacificism? (There is especially one shocking scene involving Mae that ponders this question that a lesser toothless film would be too afraid to ask.) Are we learning the right lessons from our past, if we’re learning anything at all? Why the hell can’t we all get along?

To be clear, “Kingdom” doesn’t have the answers. But you can bet your bottom dollar that this rare, deeply cinematic Hollywood franchise won’t stop digging until we get a little closer to knowing.

Tomris Laffly
Tomris Laffly

Tomris Laffly is a freelance film writer and critic based in New York. A member of the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), she regularly contributes to, Variety and Time Out New York, with bylines in Filmmaker Magazine, Film Journal International, Vulture, The Playlist and The Wrap, among other outlets.

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Film Credits

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes movie poster

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

Rated PG-13

145 minutes


Owen Teague
as Noa

Freya Allan
as Nova / Mae

Kevin Durand
as Proximus Caesar

Peter Macon
as Raka

William H. Macy
as Trevathan


  • Wes Ball


  • Josh Friedman

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