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REVIEW: ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ isn’t the legacy-quel it strives to be

Lé Baltar

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REVIEW: ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ isn’t the legacy-quel it strives to be

(L-R): Raka (played by Peter Macon), Noa (played by Owen Teague) , and Freya Allan as Nova in 20th Century Studios' KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

20th Century Studios

Now the tenth film in the 'Planet of the Apes' universe, this latest title exists under the pretense that it leaps forward, but hasn’t really evolved that much, vision-wise

Spoilers ahead.

The story of Caesar, generations later, still reigns supreme in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, yet another installment in the Planet of the Apes reboot franchise, to the extent that his namesake and would-be tyrant Proximus Caesar (a particularly terrifying Kevin Durand) wears it like a badge, save for his actual teachings, especially the sacred dictum “ape shall not kill ape,” now reduced to nothing but myth.

REVIEW: ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ isn’t the legacy-quel it strives to be

After the demise of the simian hero, who rallied the apes against human militias eager to wipe out their kind, a new world order commences: The apes are now ultrasmart because of the virus that, in turn, sent humankind to the brink of extinction, steering a relatively peaceful civilization, at least initially, with ape colonies emerging alongside it. One of which is the Eagle Clan, who has maintained a harmonious culture with the feathered kingdom, although its elders seem oblivious to larger threats in the world they inhabit, if not refusing to confront it. In fact, members of the clan cannot cross territories past what their elders allow them to.

The tribe also observes a rite of passage, where young chimps like Noa (a curious, gentle Owen Teague), alongside his close pals Soona (Lydia Peckham) and Anaya (Travis Jeffery), search for eagle eggs they’re tasked to nurture as their own. The group’s climb up the steep, dangerous terrains in the film’s early sequences is especially thrilling, if largely because of the terrific FX work. In many ways, it does feel like we’re interacting with these simian characters in the flesh.

Noa (played by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios’ ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.’ Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Much of Kingdom, as it turns out, centers on Noa, possibly the next savior of his species. Then a human, or “echoes” as Noa addresses them, enters the picture in the character of Mae (Freya Allan, of occult drama series The Witcher), who’s always on guard and so hungry that she tracks the chimp’s every move. Hours before Noa’s ceremonial bonding with his precious eagle egg, Mae, in their first encounter, inadvertently breaks it, forcing the former to look for a new one, only to draw the attention of Proximus Caesar’s troop of masked, electric-armed apes, decimating the Eagle Clan in the process and enslaving those who aren’t killed.

Through sheer force and his warped belief that “apes together strong,” Proximus Caesar is bent on gathering all ape colonies in his quest to breach the carefully-locked, man-made vault that might be key to speed up ape evolution – the same vault that Mae seeks to destroy.

Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios’ ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.’ Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Noa manages to escape the carnage, but at the expense of his own father, clan leader Koro (Neil Sandilands). With his sheltered home now razed to the ground, our protagonist journeys into the wild, into the unfamiliar. Later on, he chances upon the well-read Raka (Peter Macon, who imbues the character with much charm and humor), the last orangutan faithfully adhering to Caesar’s gospels, and learns about the real values the late ape fought for. Raka, in a touching scene, even passes Noa a treasured pendant to remind him of such teachings.

Here, director Wes Ball and screenwriter Josh Friedman really take most of the time touring the sights, with some terrific, lush rendering of the landscape, affording the viewer more leeway for introspection and for the film to mine the broader philosophies it peddles. And to some extent, it works, especially when it harnesses the drama out of the cynicism that drives Noa and Mae closer to each other. Close-ups, given more texture by the CGI, also become the film’s visual lexicon to excavate its emotional heft.

But the odyssey stretches for far too long and registers like a cop-out in ways that the film steers clear of the actual threats orbiting its characters, save for the raging brutes hunting down Noa – spread-out moments often spiked with adrenaline. Then there’s the sweeping third act, most notably when the ocean floods the impassable vault, with the film gearing toward a final burst of action, the showdown between Noa and Proximus Caesar – a David vs Goliath of sorts that rather feels anticlimactic.

Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios’ ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.’ Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

At times, the film begins to feel vacuous in its keenness to eschew important details, say, for instance, Mae’s ability to speak when most of her kind rarely possess this level of intellect and especially with her exposure to the world outside the virus-free human settlements revealed in the film’s coda. Of course, such might be deliberate omissions, which explains the feeling that Kingdom is far more primed toward shaping the initial friction needed for future mutations of the franchise than tending to this current form. It’s a concession to the bloated economy of legacy cinema that puts a premium on batching as many installments as possible to come up with more profit.

Much like its predecessors, Kingdom banks on similar thematic threads of inhumanity, the pitfalls of technological advancements, history repeating itself, and inter-species harmony. Now the tenth film in the Planet of the Apes universe, this latest title, however, exists under the pretense that it leaps forward, but hasn’t really evolved that much, vision-wise. Perhaps it’s an indication that the franchise has finally run its course, no longer capable of generating meaningful projects. But, like the film itself, it might take a while for its producers to gain awareness of that. – Rappler.com

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is now out in local cinemas.

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Lé Baltar

Lé Baltar is a Manila-based freelance journalist and film critic for Rappler. Currently serving as secretary of the Society of Filipino Film Reviewers (SFFR), Lé has also written for CNN Philippines Life, PhilSTAR Life, VICE Asia, Young STAR Philippines, among other publications. She is a fellow of the first QCinema International Film Festival Critics Lab.