Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Posted by Eddie Pasa on May 8, 2024 in / No Comments

 

Rated PG-13 by the MPA for intense sequences of sci-fi violence/action (and some humorous profanity). Audio stinger after credits. Running time: 145 minutes. Released by 20th Century Studios.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, 20th Century Studios, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, Planet of the ApesIt’s been a long time – ten years, in fact – since I’ve been absolutely wowed by a CGI-driven film. To be fair, most big budget films these days are heavily CGI-driven, and they do entertain, but rarely do they pack equal parts high art, wondrous visual effects, captivating action and characterizations, and pointed social commentary into the clothes of a summer blockbuster. The last one was Matt Reeves’ stunning Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; how fortunate it is that Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes would once again raise the bar for how absolutely compelling tentpole cinema can be.

Since 1968, the Planet of the Apes franchise – including both original and reboot films – has had something to say about humanity, as far as where we’ve been and where we’re going if we’re not careful. This time, screenwriter Josh Friedman inserts scathing commentary about the radicalization of religion and its use for harm, not the good that was intended. Surrounding this pointed glance at modern-day zealots is a survival story with a peaceful civilization at one end and the sudden appearance of a violent faction subjugating all who cross them, whether ape or human.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, 20th Century Studios, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, Planet of the ApesDirector Wes Ball starts us alongside younger chimpanzees Noa (Owen Teague), Anaya (Travis Jeffery), and Soona (Lydia Peckham) on their hunt for eagle eggs. (Don’t worry – it gets explained right away.) Watching them work as a team and seeing Noa take a bigger chance while leaving easier targets to his friends sets the tone for who we’re going to follow and how Ball wants to define him as more action-oriented and impulsive, but not in a negative way. It’s more the folly of youth and the sense of invulnerability that comes with it. This sequence, highlighted by sweeping shots of the forests and cliffs as this trio swings and climbs to their targets, also familiarizes us with the apes’ patois, a combination of sign language and halting, breath-interrupted speech that weirdly and thoughtfully provides opportunities for more dramatic line readings.

There’s something lovely about Owen Teague, Travis Jeffery, and Lydia Peckham’s motion-captured performances that comes easily and with a lively spirit through all the computer wizardry. In fact, every ape character is granted exceptional and artfully expressive animation, ranging from subtle facial tics to screaming rage. Likewise, the various structures the apes inhabit seem tangible, if not for the impossibility of their actual existence; practical sets are used where possible to seamlessly merge the real with computer fabrications. Ball takes good advantage of the latest in animation technology and wields it only as a storytelling tool, wisely avoiding hanging the movie’s entire existence on it and letting the story speak for itself.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, 20th Century Studios, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, Planet of the ApesSet “many generations” after the events of War for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar’s dying hope for ape and man to peacefully live alongside each other was never fulfilled, with humans living in seclusion while Noa and his tribe live in natural skyscrapers built of tree trunks and other vegetation. No other tribe is present, and only one human – later named Nova (Freya Allan, named as such in a callback to the 1968 series starter) – is barely glimpsed as she darts in and out of shadows. They’re not alone for long, as warriors from Proximus Caesar’s (Kevin Durand) kingdom have found them, savagely and systematically undoing their way of life and taking everyone captive.

Right away, we’re unsettled by the roars of “FOR CAESAR!” as Proximus’ foot soldiers destroy everything in sight, going directly against the original Caesar’s “Ape shall not kill ape” edict and his want for peace. It’s ugly to see Caesar’s teachings and name perverted to suit the power-hungry and evil, but that’s this film’s core: the use of the sacred to advance a selfish, violent agenda. Too often in our current times have we seen supposedly sacred texts used to justify everything from othering and estrangement to murder and war. Friedman’s script is pointed right at us, asking us to examine what went wrong and how easy it is to turn the peaceful into the aggressor with enough time separating fact from legend.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, 20th Century Studios, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, Planet of the ApesThere’s also something behind Nova’s appearance; we can’t quite put our fingers on it, but with each successive moment, more and more layers get peeled back until we realize the purpose she serves. Freya Allan does wonderful work, initially portraying Nova as a frightened teenage child and evolving into something that we cannot understand without ambiguity or shading. Her final scenes pin the “why” of her character; what we’ve watched until then is the “how.” She’s designed to be a surprising character, but what’s even more surprising is the “why,” and it’s quite a revelation.

The humans behind the motion capture shade their performances with graceful nuance and poise, with notable mo-cap performer Terry Notary – formerly Caesar in Rise, Dawn, and War – brought in as performance advisor. You can tell from the impish delight in their eyes that this was something special, something worth dedicating every ounce of energy and will. It comes through in their careful movements and voicings, especially those of “The Orville”’s Peter Macon, seen here as wise orangutan Raka, the last ape to hold true to Caesar’s original teachings. Noa’s life changes radically after meeting Raka; Macon’s assured portrayal gives Raka the space to impart the love, gentleness, and thoughtfulness missing in Noa’s actions.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, 20th Century Studios, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, Planet of the ApesNot seen until halfway through the film, Kevin Durand makes Proximus Caesar the bully with the power of belief behind all he does. Proximus believes he is entitled to everything in the name of Caesar, and Durand acts accordingly with this egotistical directive. He is terrifying in nature, but not just because he’s what Stephen King called “the boss prick ‘round dese-yere parts”; it’s because he’s a petulant child at heart, wanting everything with no consequences, dispensing quickly with those who fail him and toying mercilessly with those who cross him. No object, human, or ape mean anything to him other than facilitating his own triumph, which involves getting inside a large seaside vault; all are expendable, even Noa’s captive mother and friends.

There’s so much to see and to be pulled into with Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. Yet despite its layered storytelling and emotion, Ball and Friedman maintain simplicity to keep the ball rolling and Noa on the move. The film achieves a knowing and excellent balance between the straightforward and the convoluted, the humorous and the deathly serious, the adventurous and the frightened, and the good and the evil. It also makes sure not to be too heavy-handed with what it wants to say; rather, the film lets you feel it, expressing itself through the deeds of the valiant and the misguided might of the unjust.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, 20th Century Studios, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, Planet of the ApesThis is a fantastic, awesome addition to the rebooted Planet of the Apes series, extending the legend while baiting a hook for what might be an epic showdown. Thankfully, it doesn’t feel like an unfinished movie, like it’s only a placeholder to tide us over until the next sequel; instead, it’s the beginning of a new world in which apes start to make the same mistakes humans did, with allegorical magic binding everything together, making us consider our own human path and what we’ve done to the world and each other. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is no ordinary sequel in an already-extraordinary franchise, stemming and growing boldly from established lore and forging an exciting path to hopefully begin a new set of adventures.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on 4k or Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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