Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Josh Reviews Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

I absolutely loved Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes!  The film is a wonderful continuation of the venerable Apes franchise (which I dearly love); it’s a beautiful sequel to the previous three-film trilogy (Rise, Dawn, and War for the Planet of the Apes) and also the start of a brand new story with new characters and situations.  It stands on its own as an entertaining and exciting science-fiction adventure story, and it will deeply satisfy hard-core Apes fans like myself.

The film is set “many generations” after the events of War for the Planet of the Apes.  (The filmmakers have said in the press that we’re around 300 years later.)  We’re introduced to a group of apes living a peaceful life.  This is the Eagle Clan, and their relationship with the eagles they raise is central to their identity.  As the film opens, three ape friends seek to each capture an eagle’s egg, an important part of their coming-of-age ceremony.  The three friends are Noa (who has an uneasy relationship with his father, who is the head of the clan), Soona, and Anaya.  The Eagle Clan’s peaceful life is shattered when a violent groups of masked apes, wielding electric weapons, invades and destroys their village.  Noa survives, and sets off to rescue his family and friends.  His journey is perilous, though he will encounter several unexpected allies before coming face to face with the vicious ape leader who calls himself Proximus Caesar, who teaches a brutally twisted version of Caesar (from the previous trilogy)’s teaching that “apes together strong”.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes was everything I’d wanted it to be!  I’m so happy!

The film was directed by Wes Ball and written by Josh Friedman (who oversaw the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show and has a story credit on Terminator: Dark Fate andAvatar: The Way of Water, among other projects).  This is a brand new creative team from the previous trilogy.  I’m impressed by what they’re created here.

The film has some familiar aspects to its story.  As was the case in War for the Planet of the Apes, the third act of the story again has our main hero ape having to save a large group of imprisoned apes; and we once again have a human girl called Nova.  We also once again get a version of the classic Apes-hunting-humans sequence from the original Planet of the Apes (which this series has redone several times, for instance the reversed version in the opening of Rise).

But none of that bothered me one iota, because the filmmakers have cleverly remixed and reset the elements to tell what feels to me like a brand new story that also fits smoothly into the continuity of this franchise.

I loved all of the new characters.  This is an extremely apes-centric film, which was a delight.  The previous trilogy started being very human-centric, while gradually focusing more and more on the apes characters.  Here in Kingdom, the film is almost exclusively about the apes characters, and I was thrilled.

The great Andy Serkis played Caesar in the previous film, and those are huge shoes to fill.  Going into this film, I was worried that none of the new characters would interest me as much as Mr. Serkis’ fiercely charismatic Caesar.  I am so happy my fears were unfounded.  Our new main character is Noa, played by Owen Teague.  Noa is a brave and honest character, but he’s also somewhat timid and seems unsure where and how he fits into the structure of his clan.  Noa is pushed to his limits in this film, and forced to go on quite a journey (physically and emotionally).  I really enjoyed getting to know this character and follow him on this adventure.  I liked the choice of focusing on a younger ape character than Caesar was in the previous two films.  I also liked the way the film developed the trio of friends: Noa, Soona (Lydia Peckham), and Anaya (Travis Jeffery).  It took me a little while into the film to always be able to follow who was who — I loved that the film doesn’t hold the audience’s hand — but as the story progressed, I grew to know and love both of Noa’s friends.  I liked how brave and loyal Soona was, and I also really enjoyed the way Anaya was developed; he was cowardly and not a natural hero, but he was also silly and sweet.  I’m glad the film didn’t fall into any of the usual cliche traps of how the cowardly friend behaves (either making a mistake at a critical choice or dying early on as a way to motivate the hero).

It’s traditional in the Apes franchise that we get a wise, knowledgable orangutan character.  (I loved Maurice in the previous trilogy.)  Here we get Raka, who is beautifully played by Peter Macon.  I loved his deep, gorgeous voice, and I really enjoyed the way Raka was portrayed with both keen intelligence and also a strong core of morality and bravery.  He was also kooky and weird.  He was a great character!  Kevin Durand plays the villainous Proximus Caesar.  The film keeps Caesar off-screen for a long while; I worried at first that wouldn’t leave enough time to cement him as a memorable villain, but that wasn’t the case at all.  Mr. Durand exploded onto the screen in Proximus’ first big speech, and he was a delight throughout.  We could see his thug-like menace but also his snake-oil silkiness.  This was a great role.

Nova is played by Freya Allan.  She’s great.  Her large, expressive eyes are captivating, and serve her well as she is silent for much of the film.  I was dubious at first that the film was introducing yet another female character modeled after Nova from thew original Planet of the Apes.  But the brilliant one line delivered by Raka to explain her name won me over instantaneously.  (Seriously: that was a genius line of dialogue.)  And I was delighted that, as the film unfolded, we learned far more about Nova than I’d ever explained.  I was surprised and delighted by where her story went.

There’s also one other notable human character, played by a wonderful actor who I did not expect to see in this film!  I won’t spoil the surprise.  I’ll just say he’s fantastic.

The film’s visual effects are extraordinary.  Weta and the other effects houses involved in this film have outdone themselves.  Literally every single shot of this film is a visual effects shot.  The film is positively teeming with ape characters, all of whom have been brought to life through a combination of motion-capture and cutting-edge CGI.  It’s a miraculous achievement.  Each and every one of the apes characters feels absolutely real.  I never thought of them as CGI creatures — these were real, living, breathing characters.  It’s jaw-dropping.

The film has an epic scope, as we move through various locations.  I loved the Eagle Clan’s home.  I loved Raka’s underground refuge.  I loved seeing the abandoned human city, reclaimed by nature.  I loved the empty observatory.  And I adored Proximus Caesar’s beach-side fortress, build around the ruins of a crashed cruise-ship and designed to look like a Roman colosseum.  Marvelous all around!

The score by John Paesano was wonderful.  I loved the way he quoted Michael Giacchino’s score from War for the Planet of the Apes in the opening moments, and the way he liberally homaged Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score for the original Planet of the Apes film (most notably in the apes hunting humans scene).  The score was also filled with wonderful new themes.  I can’t wait to rewatch this film and be able to pay even more attention to the score.  (Click here to read more about the score.)

Other thoughts: (Beware some SPOILERS below.  I’ll avoid ruining any of the film’s major developments, but if you haven’t seen it yet you might want to stop here and return after you have.)

  • The title is very unwieldy, but I’m hard pressed to give advice of what to do when they’re trying to keep the already long phrase Planet of the Apes in the title.  I think it worked a little better than the previous trilogy all had one-word titles (Rise, Dawn, and War) before the Planet of the Apes phrase, though I also dinged Rise and Dawn at the time for both having titles that mean essentially the same thing.  So they can’t really win, can they?  I can go with it.
  • I was totally surprised that the film opened immediately after the end of War.  That was a fun surprise!  I wasn’t expecting to see such a direct link with the previous trilogy.  I’m glad they included that scene before leaping ahead on the timeline.
  • While I have mentioned some references, above, to the original Planet of the Apes film, I was pleased that for the most part they eschewed obvious call-backs and references.  At the same time, I love how well this film could fit into the continuity of this entire series, including the original films.  I like the sense we’ve gotten with each of these four modern Apes films that we’re creeping closer and closer to the events of the first film.
  • It’s cool to see the apes society continuing to evolve.  They’re still pretty rural — they haven’t achieved the level of civilization we saw in the original Planet of the Apes, but they’re getting closer!  (This film also teases that they might soon be able to get their hands on guns.)  The humans, meanwhile, are mostly moving in the other direction.  We see a “herd” of mute humans that greatly resembles the humans we saw in the original film.
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes directly referenced Taylor’s space mission (who would ultimately crash back on the planet in the original film), so we know Taylor and his crew are out there somewhere in the timeline of these modern films.  This film teased space several times (with characters looking into the sky, looking at a telescope, etc.) which tickled me.  I’d love it if these modern films eventually caught back up to Taylor and brought this entire franchise full circle.  That’d be fun!!
  • I liked the idea that Caesar is remembered by some apes (like Raka), forgotten by others (like Noa and his clan), while his words and teachings were twisted by others (like Proxima Caesar).  That all makes a lot of sense for the world of this story.
  • I was pleasantly surprised to see Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse, Severance) pop up at the end!
  • I’m always on the alert for franchise films that are too focused on teasing future films rather than telling a complete and satisfying story of their own.  The ending of this film dances close to that, but in the end I was pleased that it all worked for me.  I was very intrigued and excited by the way Nova/Mae and Noa’s stories both came together and diverged.  I was left satisfied, but also very excited to see where these stories go next.  Can these two work together, or will they be adversaries when they meet again?  Noa’s question of whether apes and humans could ever possibly co-exist was left tantalizingly unanswered… bring on the next film!!

I am surprised and delighted that they’re continuing to make these Planet of the Apes films, and that I’m not the only person excited about them!!!  I adore this strange and weird and winding franchise.  I love the sillier original sequels from the seventies and I love the more serious, emotional modern films.  I applaud director Wes Ball and his team for what they’ve achieved here.  I can’t wait to see this again.

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