Credit: 20th Century Studios
Blockbuster Beat by Matt Lynch Featured Film

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes — Wes Ball

May 10, 2024

Many generations after the events of 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes, we return to a future Earth where apes rule over man, but now the legacy of the previous entries’ main character and moral compass, Caesar, is mostly either forgotten or twisted by history and the needs of survival. Where that film and its immediate predecessors dealt with a conflict between apes and humans, this latest entry, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, spends the majority of its time exploring an ape society almost entirely free of interference from humankind. Unfortunately, both for the apes and potentially for the audience, it doesn’t seem like things are going to stay that way.

We’re first introduced to the Eagle Clan, a thriving ape colony that specializes in training eagles for aid in hunting and scouting. Young Noa (Owen Teague) is coming of age and about to train his own bird in an important ceremony. That process is rudely interrupted by a young human girl (Freya Allan), May, a scavenger whom Noa initially dismisses as feral since almost all other people (called here “echoes”) are basically cavemen. Worse, there’s a ruthless clan of warlike gorillas led by Proximus (Kevin Durand), who rules over all he surveys in his titular kingdom. He also happens to be specifically seeking out May for his own nefarious purposes.

Kingdom‘s greatest asset turns out to be director Wes Ball, late of the Maze Runner trilogy. As in those films, he elevates the material with a pretty careful eye, composing purposeful and often arresting images — a late-night assault and inferno in the Eagle Clan’s camp is particularly impressive to watch — rather than merely covering scenes. Perhaps that precision is a necessary feature of the nearly wall-to-wall VFX, with almost every single character in the film having been performance-captured and rendered as a digital simian. In any case, it’s refreshing to see something that feels deliberate and directed rather than just manufactured. And as in the previous installments, those crucial VFX look terrific, if not always entirely photocell; despite being slathered in digital work, the ape characters are marvels of expression and motion.

On the other hand, what starts out as a welcome, immersive pace, sinking the audience into the particulars of an ape culture largely devoid of people, eventually starts to become repetitive and increasingly monotonous as we spend more time in Proximus’ fascist, militaristic domain. A subplot involving an attempt to enter and loot a massive underground military bunker dominates the final act, where, once again, the nice apes have to fight the not-so-nice ones in the ruins of a giant industrial space. And the film’s final twists basically reset this entire version of the series back to where it started, with apes certain to come into conflict once again with heavily armed humans boasting superior tech and firepower. It’s a disappointing about-face, with Kingdom‘s early promise as an entry that would push the series forward into somewhat more uncharted territory and offer genuine boldness as a tentpole ultimately gives way to the sense that it’s simply going to fall back on the same old thing.

DIRECTOR: Wes Ball;  CAST: Freya Allan, Owen Teague, Kevin Durand, William H. Macy;  DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Studios;  IN THEATERS: May 10;  RUNTIME: 2 hr. 25 min.