The Movie Waffler New Release Review - KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES | The Movie Waffler


Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes review
A chimp sets out to free his people from the enslavement of a tyrannical gorilla.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Wes Ball

Starring: Owen Teague, Freya Allan, Peter Macon, Eka Darville, Kevin Durand, William H. Macy, Dichen Lachman

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes poster

The recent Planet of the Apes trilogy of RiseDawn and War constitute the most successful of the many reboots Hollywood has foisted on cinemagoers over the past decade (though Creed is a close second). Unlike the worst reboots, like the recent The Fall Guy, the trilogy didn't cynically hijack brand recognition, rather it delivered a fresh take while giving fans of the original 1970s series exactly what they wanted from the franchise's return. As a lifelong admirer of the 1968 film and its under-rated sequels (okay, maybe not Battle), and having been scarred by Tim Burton's misguided remake, I was apprehensive, but ultimately I liked what I found in the new trilogy.

Adding a fourth instalment to what is a perfectly good trilogy seemed a risky move, but director Wes Ball's Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is less of a fourth chapter and more the first movie in a new trilogy, one that seems headed for a tie-in with the original 1968 film.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes review

Set "many generations" after the events of WarKingdom introduces us to a world that somewhat resembles the one on which Charlton Heston crash lands. The long term effects of the virus introduced in Rise has rendered humans mute, and they've reverted to a savage state, hunted by apes on horseback who work for Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), a gorilla tyrant obsessed with continuing the legacy of Caesar, the ape who started all this and who was the focus of the previous three films. In a blackly comic twist, Proximus has confused the ape Caesar with his human counterpart from ancient Rome and so mistakenly believes that Caesar was a tyrannical ruler. It's a cheesy idea in the vein of "Wait, your mom's name is Martha too?" but it works nonetheless.

Not all apes are malicious however. In keeping with the established lore, chimpanzees are peace-loving and orang-utans are intellectuals. Our protagonist, Noa (Owen Teague), is a young chimpanzee who is part of a clan that have devoted themselves to raising eagles. A trip to steal an eagle's egg from a nest leads Noa to come across a marauding platoon of Proximus's gorillas, who burn his village to the ground and abduct its inhabitants. On a quest to find and free his people, Noa is joined by Raka (Peter Macon), a wise old orang-utan, and Mae (Freya Allan), a young human girl who insists on following Noa like a lost puppy and is given the designation "Nova" by her ape companions.

If you're a fan of this series you'll likely find Kingdom a compelling new chapter/fresh start as it's highly invested in its "world building". That's become a loaded phrase thanks to so many franchise starters that invest time in setting up subsequent movies that either never get made or decide to take different routes. But we suspect we're in safe and steady hands here, that we will indeed get a payoff to all this further down the line. Time will tell of course. With Disney now in charge there's always the worry that we get a repeat of the constant "course correction" of the recent Star Wars sequels.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes review

As a standalone movie however I'm not sure if Kingdom holds enough wide appeal to draw in a new audience beyond those of us who are already invested. At close to two and a half hours it never lags, yet it's somewhat uneventful and lacks any defining set-pieces. Modern effects aside, it has more in common with the '70s sequels than the recent trilogy, with composer John Paesano aping (sorry) Jerry Goldsmith's original score in parts. It's more focussed on characters and tying its lore in a neat bail than in delivering spectacle, which I appreciated as a fan of the old movies but I suspect may not go down so well with the average impatient modern cinemagoer.

In Noa and Mae we get two of the most compelling characters to grace the franchise. Noa is an innocent who becomes exposed to the truth his elders have protected him from, and his reaction to uncovering a world that holds the promise of either a utopian or dystopian future is the film's anchor. Through the figure of Mae the film returns to the franchise's ongoing wrestling bout with its shifting allegiances. Should we root for Mae because she's a human like us, or does her cherubic face represent a doomed future for the apes we've fallen for? No clear answers are given in a movie that refuses to sermonise. What's great about all the incarnations of this franchise is that there are no heroes or villains; those are simply labels that are swapped film to film as humans and simians strive for dominance and survival.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes review

Teague delivers arguably the best ape performance since Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter's captivating double act. We see a new uncertain dawn reflected in his initially bright but increasingly sad eyes, and it's remarkable how he manages to "humanise" a character without the advantage of a human face. The ape effects were already highly impressive in the previous films but they've evolved to another level here. Scenes in which apes trash about in water are on a par with the recent Avatar sequel, fur and liquid being two things CG has long struggled with.

If it doesn't quite offer enough originality in its storytelling to make for a great standalone entry, Kingdom fills its obligations as a new trilogy kickstarter, laying the foundation for an exciting new round of the ongoing conflict between man and ape. Even those who are unconvinced by this chapter will be pumped for the potential its ending sets up.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is in UK/ROI cinemas from May 9th.

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