‘Kingdom’ Roots ‘Planet of the Apes’ in Solid, High-Concept Sci-Fi (Review)

by | May 10, 2024


Many generations after Caesar led the ape takeover of Earth, new foes both external and internal threaten a clan of eagle-raising chimpanzees in the newest film in the Planet of the Apes franchise.

Last decade saw 20th Century Studios resuscitate the Planet of the Apes franchise with a trio of prequels that subverted audiences’ low expectations with its thoughtful storytelling, confident direction from Matt Reeves and breathtaking visual effects on top of a singular lead performance from Andy Serkis as the ape revolutionary Caesar. After a seven-year absence, the Apes series begins again with Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, a solid and entertaining first film in this new iteration that takes the saga to new places, explores timely ideas and introduces new characters while producing incredible action sequences with spectacular special effects.

Taking place 300 years after the events of War For The Planet of the Apes, Kingdom follows Noa (Owen Teague), a chimpanzee living with his family of apes among a peaceful clan that raises eagles until a coastal tribe called The Masks led by ruthless bonobo Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand) raids their village with weapons made from remnants of human technology and captures any apes they don’t kill, including Noa’s mother and best friends Anaya (Travis Jeffery) and Soona (Lydia Peckham). 

From there, Noa sets off to find his clan and return them home, making new friends along the way like the wise orangutan Raka (Peter Macon) who understands the real history of Caesar’s legend, and even Mae (Freya Allen), an intelligent human girl who strangely hasn’t entirely devolved to the mute and primitive nature of the other remaining humans scattered in the forest like animals. Noa is skeptical of letting Mae join him and Raka on their journey, but Raka informs him of Caesar’s time when humans and apes used to live together in harmony and changes his mind, but his suspicion remains over Mae’s real motives over her assistance.

And that is one of the many instances in the script where Kingdom keeps the Planet of the Apes franchise well within its roots as a B-movie idea made powerful by high-concept science fiction. The best sci-fi from back in the days of the original 1968 classic used their premise to say something profound about the world we live in, and Kingdom does that to both benefit its own self-contained narrative and the grander story of this new triumvirate of films. An example of the former comes through the actions of Proximus, who misunderstands Caesar’s message of ‘Apes together strong’ as a cry to keep apes the world’s most dominant species, motivating him with a tyrannical desire to violently eviscerate humans and their allies off the face of the earth.

The parallels between Proximus and a certain figure in our current political climate are apparent without being over the top, and provoke thoughts about how the lessons of our idols and before us can be misinterpreted over time. Noa himself is an unsuspecting victim of this, as despite his Eagle Clan’s curiosity about the birds in which they raise, they remain predominantly closed-minded about the world around them, conveyed in an early conversation with his father who warns him not to venture outside of their territory, and even his clan’s actions of taking eggs from eagles’ nests to breed them from birth to adulthood in a giant aviary for personal use.

The Eagle Clan’s isolationist philosophy also results in misguided hate toward those outside their walls, shown by their frequent referencing to hordes of humans as ‘echoes’. Noa’s character arc is a compelling one that sets him off on a coming-of-age-esque hero’s journey, but becoming the leader he is meant to be requires him to overcome his inherent small-mindedness, and for many reasons established in Kingdom, it could very well be his overarching goal for the films that follow.

Like the previous three Apes films, the visual effects are so immaculately rendered that it’s easy to forget the apes are portrayed by humans with amazing motion capture technology. What stands out the most in Kingdom are the minute details that add more realism or terror depending on the scene: individual strands of fur on Noa’s arms flow with realistic texture as he follows Raka through his secret lair, while spit lines of Proximus’ monstrous right-hand ape are visible between his lips upon a threatening roar. 

But the strength of the actors’ performances is not lost among the CGI; Teague does a solid job leading Kingdom as Noa, Macon steals the show as Raka with hilarious comedic timing and delivery, and Allan makes Mae a compelling character through her visual acting, such as in a beautiful scene where she and Noa each peer through a telescope, reacting to it differently but with the same lyrical and nuanced power. 

Kingdom does zip through the world building of the Eagle Clan’s customs to keep the plot moving forward, and it’s worth noting that director Wes Ball stages and shoots the action very well, but this new film mostly retains the ominous mood and epic tone Matt Reeves set in Dawn and War without a unique auteurial stamp on the material from Ball himself. But he has two more movies to accomplish that in this new part of the world he’s built on the planet of the apes, and Kingdom takes it into uncharted but exciting and thoughtful new territory for all to enjoy.


RATING: ★★★★

(out of five stars)