15 May 2024

Review: The Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

From At The Movies, 7:00 pm on 15 May 2024

It’s pointless trying to put a coherent timeline to the Planet of the Apes series that started in 1968 with Charlton Heston landing on a strangely familiar world ruled by apes. 

There were subsequent sequels and reboots, with varying degrees of coherence. But the series essentially started again with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, featuring Andy Serkis as a sort of chimpanzee Moses called Caesar.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes takes place a hundred years or so after Caesar died just before reaching the Promised Land.  

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Photo: 20th Century Studios

A young chimpanzee called Noa lives in a peaceful village run by his father. These particular chimpanzees are bird-fanciers, hunting with trained eagles. Then one day they’re attacked by another clan.

This clan seems to be mostly chimps too, though they’re led by a fearsome gorilla. In the battle, Noa’s father is killed, and the rest of the clan is rounded up as slaves.

All but Noa, who vows to rescue them.

The first thing you notice is how extraordinary Wētā’s animation has become over the years. You literally can’t see the join between practical sets and digital effects.  

Where in the past we marvelled at Serkis and some of his mates being animated in small doses, now we’re seeing entire armies of apes, each one individually delineated.  

Though, as far as the story goes, there’s still a fair amount of suspension of disbelief required. Why do only some apes seem able to talk, while others rely entirely on a primitive sign language?    

And why are the “apes” of the series so heavy on chimps and so light on all the other species? 

For example, each film seems limited to just the one speaking orangutan – in this case the studious Raka.   

Orangutans are generally the series’ librarians, often put on exposition duty – reminding us how a virus appeared that made apes smart but had the opposite effect on humans.

We see herds of feral humans fleeing from apes on horses, as seen in the original Planet of the Apes. And Noa and Raka rescue a human female who’s being chased by a gorilla platoon.

They treat her like a stray pet until she reveals she’s not your average mute human.  She can talk. She talks better than most apes. 

Mike drop, if they had any mikes, which of course they don’t. Instead, Mae and her ape companions find themselves caught and dragged off to the evil warlord Proximus.

I spent some time trying to work out what sort of ape Proximus is, without much success.

He’s billed as a bonobo – the chimpanzee’s smaller cousin – but he’s clearly far too big and ferocious for that. 

Still, what is this - a David Attenborough TV show? Think of him as a big hairy villain, like something out of Mad Max.

Unlike other apes, Proximus seems to be a student of history and anthropology.  He also claims to be a devout follower of Caesar. 

The big idea of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is that all the apes claim to be adherents of Caesar’s laws, and often come to blows over it.  

Thanks, I do get it.

So, welcome to yet another desert-based franchise, with Noa standing in for a chimp Luke Skywalker and Mae the prickly human Princess Leia.

If you want more than the existing crop - Dune, Mad Max, The Mandelorian and several others – with extra apes, here it is.

It’s certainly slower and less complex than some of them, which may not be a bad thing.  But if you weren’t already engaged by the question ‘Can apes and humans ever get along?’ Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes isn’t going to change your mind.  

Frankly, I’ve seen the first film. I know how it comes out.  

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