Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.'

Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.' Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Opening in theaters May 10 is ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,’ directed by Wes Ball and starring Owen Teague, Kevin Durand, Freya Allan, Peter Macon, Lydia Peckham and William H. Macy.

Related Article: Every 'Planet of the Apes' Movie, Ranked!

Initial Thoughts

Noa (played by Owen Teague) and Dar (played by Sara Wiseman) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.'

(L to R) Noa (played by Owen Teague) and Dar (played by Sara Wiseman) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.' Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Nearly six decades and 10 films in, the ‘Planet of the Apes’ saga remains a fan favorite and an iconic sci-fi franchise. It’s easy to see why: with its consistently compelling central premise and many of its best films combining interesting ideas with terrific visuals and a genuinely weird atmosphere, the ‘Apes’ films stand alone among other sci-fi properties in terms of originality, social commentary, and story potential.

‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,’ the fourth film in the rebooted storyline that began with 2011’s ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes,’ mostly continues the high standard of quality set by that film and its two follow-ups, 2014’s ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ and 2017’s ‘War for the Planet of the Apes.’ It smartly plays off the narrative of those previous three movies, while starting its own new storyline with a brand-new cast of characters. While pacing issues and an underdeveloped subplot keep it from the upper tier of ‘Apes’ entries, ‘Kingdom’ is still a worthy installment that should leave fans largely satisfied.

Story and Direction

Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.'

Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.' Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Centuries after the legendary Caesar (Andy Serkis) – an ape whose intelligence was enhanced by a viral drug, sparking the rise of the apes and the fall of humanity – led his people to freedom in a paradise-like valley at the end of ‘War for the Planet of the Apes,’ offshoots of Caesar’s original group live in rural, isolated communities of their own. As ‘Kingdom’ opens, one such tribe -- called the Eagle Clan due to their training of eagles for hunting -- prepares for a ceremony in which younger members must retrieve an eagle’s egg in a coming-of-age ritual.

One of those young members, Noa (Owen Teague), is troubled by both his ability to complete the ritual and also the fleeting human figure he sees lurking around him – especially since humans are feral and their presence discouraged. But all that is set aside when Noa stumbles upon a squad of aggressive gorillas from outside his clan, armed with electrical prods, and inadvertently leads them back to his village. The attack decimates the village, with members of Noa’s family and two of his closest friends among the survivors who are taken captive.

Determined to rescue them, Noa heads out in pursuit and soon finds himself accompanied by Raka (Peter Macon), a wise orangutan who schools Noa in the story of Caesar, whose exploits are still legendary but have become partially forgotten with the passage of time. Also on the trail with them is the human woman (Freya Allan) who has shadowed Noa, and whom Raka names “Nova” in the first of several series Easter eggs (“We call them all Nova – I don’t know why”).

Noa (played by Owen Teague), Freya Allan as Nova and Raka (played by Peter Macon) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.'

(L to R) Noa (played by Owen Teague), Freya Allan as Nova and Raka (played by Peter Macon) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.' Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Their quest leads to a stronghold on the coast ruled by Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), a tyrannical bonobo who has twisted Caesar’s teachings and aims to bring all apes under his rule – with the help of long-abandoned human weapons that he is doggedly trying to locate.

There are many fascinating ideas at work in ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,’ with the main one being the idea – first suggested in ‘War’ by the character Bad Ape – that different ape societies have sprung up and may not always have each other’s best interests at heart. The concept of history repeating itself – only this time in a simian civilization, not a human one – is a sturdy underpinning for a new ‘Apes’ adventure, since the series has always delved into (sometimes heavy-handed) social commentary and outright satire.

The other intriguing idea is that of the remnants of human civilization being left lying around for ambitious or curious apes to pick up – including, of course, weapons. Echoes of everything from classic ‘Star Trek’ to earlier ‘Apes’ entries to even recent Marvel films (remember all that tech that the Chitauri left behind after ‘The Avengers’?) abound in this premise. But the tragic aspect of this – that peaceful apes could be wiped out by human devices still capable of destruction after all these years – is perhaps not given the depth it should have.

Freya Allen as Mae in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.'

Freya Allen as Mae in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.' Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

One other element of the plot – the fate of the remaining humans on the planet – is also not as fully fleshed out as it could be. This delves into spoiler territory, and plays into the film’s closing scenes (which do not quite hit as hard as they could), so we won’t go into detail. But the Nova character and another human played by William H. Macy are both less and more than what they seem, a plot point that doesn’t quite make sense in the larger context of the film.

Despite the script’s shortcomings in these areas, which are bothersome but not deadly, we’re left with an otherwise mostly rousing action-adventure. Some of the action sequences, such as the initial attack on the Eagle Clan’s village and a battle inside a rushing deluge of water, are sensationally staged.

Another sequence – apes hunting primitive humans – is a deliberate homage to the same classic sequence in the original 1969 ‘Planet of the Apes,’ right down to certain shots and passages from Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic, Oscar-nominated score. Director Wes Ball (‘The Maze Runner’) does not quite bring the same emotional depth to the material as ‘Dawn’ and ‘Rise’ director Matt Reeves or even ‘Rise’ helmer Rupert Wyatt, but he is an experienced shooter who occasionally flags in the film’s pacing but brings an electricity to its best scenes.

Credit is due also to director of photography Gyula Pados, who shoots some strikingly beautiful scenes, and production designer Daniel T. Dorrance, who creates an initially tranquil yet eerie world in which the apes literally build atop human ruins.

A New Breed of Apes

Raka (voiced by Peter Macon) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.'

Raka (voiced by Peter Macon) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.' Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Just like the previous three entries in the series, ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ is also bolstered by a fine cast and strongly delineated characters – at least on the simian side. While it’s hard to top the majesty and poignancy of Andy Serkis’ groundbreaking work as Caesar, Owen Teague (‘It’) shows here that he is quite capable of bringing a non-human character to life through the continually evolving craft of performance capture.

His Noa is familiar in some ways – a youth who want to prove himself to his parents (especially his father) and whose curiosity about the world around him lands him in trouble – but he’s also intelligent, compassionate, determined and ultimately courageous. Noa evolves over the course of the story into a potential ape leader himself, and Teague’s performance is both wonderfully expressive and physical.

Peter Macon and Kevin Durand are also quite formidable respectively as Raka and Proximus Caesar. Macon’s Raka serves as the conscience of the film, schooling Noa in Caesar’s philosophy while he rues the way it’s been largely forgotten and ultimately distorted by the likes of Proximus (Raka is also introduced as being dedicated to finding and preserving ancient human books, a calling that’s all too relevant in this age of relentless attempts at book banning). Like Noa, Raka is also brave, endearing but also funny, a welcome counterpart to Caesar’s advisor Maurice in the earlier films.

Proximus Caesar (voiced by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.'

Proximus Caesar (voiced by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.' Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Kevin Durand, a favorite character actor of ours for a while, offers a full-throated performance as Proximus, who thinks he is keeping the legacy of Caesar alive even while he’s destroying it. But Proximus isn’t a one-dimensional despot: he’s more intelligent than he lets on, cunning and transactional, and convinced he’s got the best intentions of his people at heart, even if he’s a delusional megalomaniac.

Supporting ape characters – like Caesar’s friends Soona (Lydia Peckham) and Anaya (Travis Jeffery) -- are aided tremendously, as all the ape characters are, by the strides made by Weta FX in visualizing the apes, along with the work of Serkis (who acted as a consultant) and movement coach Alain Gauthier. While a few longer shots look a tad rough, the character work, facial expressions, and up-close movement of the apes continue to be extraordinarily effective (including the shots of apes immersed in water).

Less impressive are both Freya Allan and William H. Macy in the main human roles. Much of the central plot hinges on Allan’s Nova (whose real name is Mae) but the actor simply doesn’t have the gravitas or sense of experience to carry it, while Macy’s relatively brief appearance is more or less one-note and fails to satisfactorily answer some of the questions raised by Josh Friedman’s screenplay.

Final Thoughts

Noa (voiced by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.'

Noa (voiced by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.' Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

The ‘Apes’ franchise elicits strong reactions from its fans: the original five films are loved for their originality, imagery, and weirdness, even if some of them are hokey and juvenile, while the films of the 2010s are respected for the quality of the filmmaking and the depth of their storytelling (the less said about Tim Burton’s forgettable 2001 remake, the better). In a way, fans appreciate the films for their flaws as well as their strengths.

‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ lands squarely in the middle of the pack. It doesn’t quite achieve the greatness of the series’ best entries, but as the fourth film of the current run, it still sets this franchise apart by developing interesting characters and wrestling with intriguing ideas about society, morality, history, and science. That’s more than a lot of Hollywood tentpoles can say. While there are some holes in its narrative structure that leave the film feeling a bit undercooked, ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ still provides an often rousing new chapter in a still-fascinating saga.

‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ receives 7 out of 10 stars.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

"No one can stop the reign."
72
PG-132 hr 25 minMay 2nd, 2024
Showtimes & Tickets

Director Wes Ball breathes new life into the global, epic franchise set several generations in the future following Caesar’s reign, in which apes are the dominant... Read the Plot

What is the plot of ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’?

Centuries after the collapse of human civilization and the rise of the legendary ape revolutionary Caesar, intelligent apes live in small, isolated communities while feral humans remain scattered throughout the land. When a tyrannical bonobo leader captures his tribe using human technology, a young chimp named Noa (Owen Teague) sets out to rescue them, accompanied by a mysterious human woman (Freya Allan).

Who is in the cast of ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’?

  • Owen Teague as Noa
  • Freya Allan as Nova
  • Kevin Durand as Proximus Caesar
  • Peter Macon as Raka
  • William H. Macy as Trevathan
  • Travis Jeffery as Anaya
  • Lydia Peckham as Soona

Noa (voiced by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.'

Noa (voiced by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios' 'Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.' Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

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