Review: ‘Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes’

A Solid Reboot In A Franchise In Desperate Need Of Evolution

2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes was a great film; all of the reboot franchise has been great since it began with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and continued with the best one, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But what ‘War’ didn’t do was end the trilogy on a high note in terms of box office. This has been one of the most successful reboots creatively in ages, and yet there wasn’t much clamor for it to continue with Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. A supposed “standalone sequel” directed capably by Wes Ball (of The Maze Runner trilogy), the film has a high bar to reach and falls just short. It’s not that anything is decidedly worse than its predecessors, it’s escaping the feeling that these movies are running in place with nowhere to go.

A clear line in the sand is drawn right from the start. A leaner movie in just about every way, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes begins with the death of Caesar, the Charles Xavier-like ape leader with a dream of peaceful coexistence with humans. Played impeccably by Andy Serkis across three movies, Caesar’s death marks a creative gear shift.  Jump forward many generations, and the central character is Noa (played by Owen Teague), a young ape who we’re introduced to as he swings to insanely high rooftops to nab an eagle egg from its nest. Accompanied by his two companions, Noa proves his acrobatic skills by scaling the deadly treetops. His clan, the Eagle Clan, raises the predatory birds and forges a bond with them that benefits all. They are a peaceful clan but fear the “echoes”, the remnants of a Neanderthal humanity scavenging to survive.

The real threat is something much worse. It isn’t long before Noa encounters a clan of brutal, war-mongering apes, led by a massive armored gorilla. Noa accidentally leads them back to his village, where the Eagle Clan is no match. Everything is destroyed, Noa’s people are taken captive, his loved ones killed, the eagles scattered to the skies. Left alone, Noa sets out by horseback to find and rescue what remains of his tribe.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes acts as both a sequel and a franchise reboot, which places it in an awkward situation of trying to appeal to everybody.  Even though Caesar is gone, he still looms large as an almost Jesus-like figure. Noa encounters Raka (Peter Macon), a wise, quirky orangutan who is part of an order of apes who study and teach Caesar’s lessons. He brings a bit of light-hearted humor and mischief that is welcome. Together, they brave many dangers on their journey, but none of the massive battlefield setpieces favored by previous director Matt Reeves. The action is smaller scale, which is good because this is more of a personal story about Noa, an unconventional hero who isn’t a natural warrior and experiences great terror on multiple occasions.

Like Caesar, Noa also shows compassion and mercy. These traits he exhibits when they encounter a feral human woman, Nova (Freya Allen), who is significantly more advanced than other humans. She’s carrying with her a secret that could change the ape/human dynamic once and for all. Humans have been reduced to a primitive culture, while apes reign supreme, led by the tyrant Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand) who has claimed the name of Caesar but bastardized his teachings. He rules a coastal kingdom that will look very familiar to fans of the 1968 Planet of the Apes led by Charlton Heston. It feels like this is where the reboot has been inching its way to for more than a decade. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is just an incremental step. It’s either the end of the road or the start of a new trilogy that will continue to inch its way to where we already know to be headed. And then what?

You do realize that casting someone like Serkis, extraordinary as he might have been, was wholly unnecessary. Technology has advanced to such a degree that everyone can have an awards-worthy motion capture performance. Teague, an actor with deep, soulful eyes, shines through as the resourceful Noa. Durand, who can also be seen right now in the horror film Abigail, is in full-crazed dictator mode. Proximus rants, raves, and brutalizes his own kind to infiltrate a mysterious vault that may or may not contain the key to further evolution. As far as human performances go, Allen brings intensity as the enigmatic Nova, but it’s William H. Macy, as an opportunist working for Proximus, who is clearly having the most fun in such a shady villain role.

An endless cycle of violence with the same repeated stakes can become tiresome. It will always be humans vs ape for planet superiority, and the conclusion suggests there’s another fight on the horizon. Like Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, I’m sure it’ll be solid, well-acted, and entertaining without achieving anything near what the earlier films accomplished. So another trip to the planet of the apes? Sure, but what it needs most isn’t another sequel. It needs to grow and become something new that we haven’t seen before.


Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes
Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-kingdom-of-the-planet-of-the-apes2017's War for the Planet of the Apes was a great film; all of the reboot franchise has been great since it began with 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and continued with the best one, Dawn of the Planet of the...