REVIEW: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

In an entertainment era where seemingly everything is being dumbed down and homogenized, the Planet of the Apes films have managed to hold on, retaining their focus on larger ideas about society, human nature, and the rise and fall of civilization. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth in the rebooted arm of the franchise, continues that thoughtful tradition, although it’s not as engaging as its three predecessors and could have explored its themes and characters a bit more.

“Many generations” after the events of the previous three films, the apes have begun building their own societies. In one, a peaceful tribe of chimpanzees lives separate from the rest of the world until they are invaded and enslaved by a warrior ape clan. Noa, thought dead and left behind, sets out to rescue his people, unprepared for the vast world from which he’s been sheltered and followed by a mysterious human whose presence always leads to trouble.

The early scenes of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes introduce some of the best aspects of the film, as well as some of its drawbacks. The idea of apes forming various collectives, adapting to their environments, and evolving based on those things is fascinating, and it’s a great set-up for the next story in this universe. Unfortunately, the film whizzes by this part, giving us barely enough to understand what Noa’s people are like without showing us how they got this way or why they have some of the customs they do. Moreover, this is where we’re introduced to the hero of the movie and his friends and family, but the bonds between them aren’t established all that well. We know Noa loves his mom because she’s his mom, and we know Anaya and Soona are his friends because they hang out with him. But the dynamics aren’t explored, so it doesn’t mean as much as it should have when trouble finds Noa and his people.

This extends to Noa himself. He’s fine, but kind of an empty vessel, never showing the same humanity or likability as Caesar from the previous movies. He has an arc, and it gets better as it goes along, thanks in large part to some excellent symbolism and his interactions with characters he meets along the way. But Noa doesn’t pop like Caesar did, and while you still basically root for him, you’re not as invested in his story as you were in Caesar’s. But he’s better than Mae, the main human character played by Freya Allan. Mae is a cipher on purpose, which is fine, but Allan doesn’t have the gravitas to make her as compelling as she should be, so she’s dependent on the plot. When things pick up, she’s okay, but in the slower scenes, she’s just kind of there. (There’s another human character played by a fantastic actor who’s not in the trailers, and he’s completely wasted in a nothing part.) On the other hand, Raka, a knowledgeable orangutan Noa encounters on his journey, is a wonderful character, brimming with life and personality, and he livens up the movie when he’s around. (It helps that he’s played by Peter Macon of The Orville.)

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

A big plus for Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is that it has a superbly compelling villain in Proximus Caesar, played by perennial movie bad guy Kevin Durand. Proximus doesn’t show up until about two-thirds of the way through the movie, and I was worried this would diminish his weight as the antagonist, but he’s such an imposing force that it works. He’s the face of the threat to Noa’s people – one of them, anyway – and he’s as menacing and driven as the best antagonists. He’s also, despite his distaste for them, all too human in his motivations, and while he’s clearly the bad guy, Proximus’ fears are understandable and, perhaps, not unfounded. The perspectives on society he and his “kingdom” introduce are integral to the themes as well, and the film truly takes shape when Proximus first lumbers onto the screen.

It also has a lot of life in it due to the amazing special effects. The glut of lousy Disney movies and their embarrassing visuals can put a damper on seeing another sci-fi blockbuster, but several recent films have reminded us of what good effects artists are capable of. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes sits in the latter camp (even though it’s technically a Disney movie), and good God, these apes come completely to life. The characters benefit mightily from this; as I said, Noa is a bit weak in characterization, but seeing how realistic and expressive he is goes a long way towards compensating for that. You never feel like the apes are CGI renderings because they feel real; the first shot of the opening scene shows an ape’s arm hair blowing in the night wind as he touches another ape, and it’s majestic. Before the movie, they showed a trailer for Mufasa: The Lion King, and the difference is shocking. And unlike even some of the better CGI nowadays, it never falters, even during action sequences.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Those actions sequences are few and far between, which isn’t a bad thing; I enjoy these as more thoughtful sci-fi films with occasional bursts of violence, the nature of which highlights the dread and danger of living in a world where a savage gorilla may jump out and try to beat you to death. But those scenes are well-filmed, with fluid action that’s easy to see and understand. As a whole, the filmmaking is excellent, with some great shots of the vast, desolate world the apes are beginning to rejuvenate, if slowly. There are beaches, jungles, a long-abandoned city that’s being taken over by plant life – a visual representation of creatures we once associated with primitive nature claiming the world from us, progress be damned – and they’re all beautifully rendered. The music is the perfect accompaniment to the story, with the warmer tones of Noa’s peaceful village giving way to warlike beats whenever Proximus’ forces arrive. One scene, which is an homage to a similar one in the original Planet of the Apes, uses a piece of that film’s score, and it works much better than it should, which indicates that the rest of the score was carefully constructed to fit the series.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is thought-provoking, exciting, and entertaining. It falls short in some of the characterizations, especially in the lead ape and human, and it could have used more time during its early scenes to establish Noa’s society and relationships. But it’s a good beginning to the next phase of the franchise, and it’s a visual marvel that serves as a reminder of how spectacular movies can be.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

Plot - 8
Acting - 8
Directing/Editing - 9
Music/Sound - 9
Special Effects - 10



Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes has a weak pair of main characters and a rushed set-up, but it has fascinating things to say about society and culture, and the special effects are fantastic.

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