Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Directed By Wes Ball

Starring – Freya Allan, Kevin Durand, Dichen Lachman

The Plot – The new Apes movie is set many years after the conclusion of 2017’s ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’. Many apes societies have grown from when the Moses-like Caesar brought his people to an oasis, while humans have been reduced to a feral-like existence. Some ape groups have never heard of Caesar, while others have contorted his teaching to build burgeoning empires. In this setting, one ape leader begins to enslave other groups to find human technology, while another ape, who watched his clan be taken, embarks on a journey to find freedom. A young human woman (Allan) becomes key to the latter’s quest, although she has plans of her own.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence/action

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes | Official Trailer (youtube.com)

POSITIVES

Where one circle closes for the ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise, another begins, this time surmising the first chapter to what feels like another trilogy, all without help from previous protagonist Caesar to its benefit. While Caesar is gone from the fold, his legacy lives on, with some using it for good to stand together for a better world for apes, while others use Caesar’s lessons as an excuse to commit murder and live out their own toxically abusive fantasies. This complexity pertaining to legacy goes a long way in not only illustrating the void left by a leader that, for better or worse, will inevitably be filled, but beyond that conjures another thought-provoking narrative in the depths of apes that mirror the rise and fall of their humanistic predecessors, which they’ve refused to learn from, and are destined to fail in the same manner. In terms of satisfaction for this first installment, the movie does feel like it sporadically plans for a future without sacrificing the integrity of this opening chapter, in turn resolving each introduced arc with a series of corresponding pay-offs that enhance the memorability and ongoing interests in seeing things play out for two more films. While the script goes a long way towards capably justifying the prolonged lifespan of this franchise, Ball’s impact in meaningful direction simply can’t be overstated, with a ratcheted intensity and immensity in scope that easily makes this the finest crafted Apes movie that I’ve ever seen. With a 2.39:1 aspect ratio to his favor, Ball is able to vividly bring to life an epic scale for depiction that feels like it stretches miles in the established world-building of this setting, and when combined with enthralling action combining tightly claustrophobic framing, precise editing, and of course grave urgency, we’re given riveting set pieces aplenty that consistently pay-off the extent of the long-winded character development that dominates much of the nearly two-and-a-half hour run time. On that aspect, the film is a bit overlong, primarily during the sequencing of its third act, but I appreciate the responsible take that the production has with the unfortunate task of essentially having to start over, now that its protagonist is dead and buried. Because the opening act spends so much time with coming-of-age ape, Noah, as well as thoroughly fleshing out the trauma associated with being separated from his family, we’re given a plot that effortlessly attaches itself to the hearts of its audience, all the while fleshing out a few unique surprises along the way that proves this new trilogy bares a connective tissue with the original trilogy, that only further enhances the extensive world-building, to which we’re four films deep into now. This makes the continuity of such feel seamless, despite differing directors and characters along the way, and while this is a world of decay that has fallen to a species with evolving intelligence that is still very much a work in progress, it’s fascinating to see how their world works, with regards to infrastructure and traditionalism that makes this all feel very rich with lived-in believability. Speaking of believability, the computer-generated special effects are also the best of the entire franchise, with details and tangibility in designs that go a long way towards silencing internal doubt from within the audience. While this is certainly easier with an estimated budget of 160 million dollars at its disposal, what’s truly impressive is how the mouth movements and physicality of the apes come across so seamlessly, with even up close and personal photography of them permeating an actor inside of a suit kind of feel that should speak volumes about what this production was able to do with a canvas that is essentially 99% artificial in both backdrops and interacting characters. Lastly, most of the ensemble are newcomers with regards to this franchise, but the torch is prominently passed from Andy Serkis to Owen Teague, who brings such emotional dexterity and curiosity to Noah in ways that make him such a compelling protagonist. Whether challenged by overwhelming odds, or stricken by the grief of being alone in such a big and unpredictable world, Teague supplants a gravitas to the character that is reflected by determination and stoicism of his mission, with a full-fledged transition between bookends of the engagement that come across without him or the movie hammering home the intention. Teague is joined by Allan, who as Mae, without the use of much dialogue at her disposal, constantly challenges the camera to decode her animalistic indulgences, which meaningfully convey the struggle between who she was versus who she became in this new world. Longtime film veteran Kevin Durand is also mesmerizing as Proximus, the film’s primary antagonist, despite limited screen time that forces him to make the most of his minutes. Durand is powerful, intimidating and especially devious in his character’s unquenchable thirst for power, and while his section of arrival is the weakest for the film, his magnetism keeps it from truly falling apart during a time it easily could’ve.

NEGATIVES

On the subject of that aforementioned third act, a couple of bad decisions to the movie’s creative leaves it feeling a bit underwhelming at times, primarily during the climax, which is marred a disastrous concoction of contrivances and faded focus that casually tested my investment. With the arrival of a massive plot device, the film drifts from the compelling quest of Noah trying to get his family back, to Mae’s search for humanity, and while I did enjoy Allan’s turn, as previously commended, her character never felt half as interesting or endearing as Noah, especially since the entire first 90 minutes irrefutably chooses him as the primary protagonist throughout it all. It thankfully does revert back to Noah by film’s end, but there is undoubtedly a forty minute window during the engagement where a lot of the momentum to the movie’s favor does slip out the window, and with some conveniences in logic thrown in during the set-up to the final conflict between Noah and Proximus, I found myself disappointed by how sloppy this section of the film felt in contrast to the rest of it. Beyond this, the film is a bit overlong at 140 minutes, but not in a way that doesn’t justify that amount with the distance of its journey, but rather the execution of the pacing, which had some dull spots before the exciting action set pieces helped to pick things up. Unsurprisingly, the third act was definitely the most trying to my patience, with several scenes that definitely could’ve been hemmed for the simplicity of their intention, but I also found some of the second act between Noah, Mae and another unannounced character to feel tedious and even repetitive in its sedation, leaving the film feeling the weight of its wear, which could’ve been perfect with a two hour cut that irons out some of the meandering.

OVERALL
“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” isn’t exactly a title that rolls off of the tongue, but it is an adventurously exciting and urgently enthralling addition to a franchise whose best days we thought were long behind us. With top notch special effects, a gorgeously immense presentation and a thorough dissection on legacy, Wes Ball picks up right where Matt Reeves left off, justifying the existence of a fourth chapter that simultaneously isn’t the best or worst of the franchise.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

One thought on “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

  1. This sounds entertaining! It is always difficult starting a new trilogy, trying to respect the source material while forging a new story. The effects look amazing, and while it does seem to be a bit long runtime wise, I think it will make for an enjoyable watch!

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