Film reviews and more since 2009

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024) review

Dir. Wes Ball

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★½

Opening 300 years after the events of War for the Planet of the Apes, and the death of Cesar, Wes Ball’s fourth installment of the Apes reboot trilogy (10th overall, if you’re keeping track) opens with three young chimps, Noa (Owen Teague), Anaya (Travis Jeffery), and Soona (Lydia Peckham), hunting for eagle eggs to hatch and with which to bond. The chimps soar through the treetops in collection of these eggs in a move that nearly costs Noa his life. The egg Noa finds is eventually broken by Mae (Freya Allan), a human scavenger, forcing him to search for more, and inadvertently ending up in the crosshairs of Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), the villainous new leader of the apes.

Proximus has twisted the wise and insightful teachings of Caesar into a gospel of unchecked greed and violence. His ultimate goal is to build an army that will one day have possession of all the secrets to technology humans have left behind over the course of generations. His contempt for Noa shows no mercy. He’s destroyed his homeland, executed his father, and sets his sights on Mae when he learns that the apes have aligned with her.

Early into the film, Noa meets Raka (Peter Macon), a wise old orangutan who informs him about the real Cesar, who was the antithesis to everything Proximus preaches. Soon thereafter, the two, along with Noa’s other friends and various members of the Eagle clan, are taken into captivity by Proximus’ henchmen (hench-apes?), where they meet Trevathan (William H. Macy), a human who is forced to teach Proximus everything he knows about humans. It all builds to a waterlogged showdown at a bunker, in what is ultimately an explosive climax that finds all the ingredients this reboot franchise is known for mixing into a delightful stew, with excitement, suspense, and emotional resonance all coalescing into something dimensional and satisfying.

The problem? It takes about two hours to get to that point. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a reboot within a reboot series, and the foundation on which it builds itself and future films is one that reeks of familiarity. It was one thing for The Force Awakens to reel fans back in with a film structured in similar vein to A New Hope; here, it’s as if Kingdom is hybridizing Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to further its narrative. There’s a reason this template works there hasn’t been a new installment in decades. It’s a bit too familiar when this series is revisiting its own story beats that began less than 15 years ago.

Kingdom is also hampered by a drearily slow first hour. Its pacing allows Daniel T. Dorrance’s production design to flourish, with the level of visual detail coming into intense focus, but the buildup is methodical, and frankly, unexciting. Screenwriter Josh Friedman doesn’t define this new batch of characters in particularly interesting ways. Noa is at least another denser, more philosophical sequel away from becoming half the entry-point into this world that Caesar was, and Noa lacks a personality even when she starts talking.

Beyond the visuals, and the stunning motion capture performances, it’s the ideas embedded in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes that keep us engaged. There’s a strong pacifistic stance among the Eagle Clan; one that starts to erode when the threat of Proximus’ wrath emerges and the need for violence may be necessary. There’s obviously the quandary that questions whether or not peace between humans and apes can ever be achieved with such a strong classist structure still existing amongst the apes even hundreds of years after Caesar’s death. These ideas at least assure the 10th-time-around for this series isn’t empty, but at this point, it’s familiar, and chokehold of suspense in which the most recent trilogy had us by the climax doesn’t feel as strong here.

NOTE: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is now playing exclusively in theaters.

My review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes
My review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

My review of War for the Planet of the Apes

Starring: Freya Allan, William H. Macy, and Dichen Lachman. Voiced by: Owen Teague, Kevin Durand, Peter Macon, Lydia Peckham, and Travis Jeffery. Directed by: Wes Ball.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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