Saturday, May 18, 2024

How The “Planet Of The Apes” Became One Of Hollywood’s Strongest Kingdoms

Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” will put the “Planet Of The Apes” franchise in rarified territory, no matter the reviews or box office results, starting on May 10th. As the tenth film to bear the “Planet of the Apes” name, it puts the series in very select company with the longest-running franchises in Hollywood history—and it may be in better shape at this moment than most of them.

This doesn’t take into account cinematic universes like the MCU, characters like Godzilla who’ve done most of their big screen work overseas, or franchises that started in theaters before devolving into dozens of cheap, direct-to-DVD/streaming/on-demand sequels. Beyond all that, only a handful of franchises have gotten to release ten or more big-screen blockbusters, and now the Apes can stand strong together with all of them.

Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” is the fourth incarnation of the series, or technically maybe the third. The first was the original five-film series from 1968 to 1973, although most people mainly remember the first landmark, “Planet Of The Apes” in 1968. Unfortunately, memories of that original film were one of the many reasons critics and audiences turned against Tim Burton’s “Planet Of The Apes” in 2001, in a second incarnation of the series that left no one anxious for a third. Though given how “Beneath The Planet Of The Apes” brought Charlton Heston back to destroy the Earth literally and still found a time-travel loophole to make three additional sequels anyway, maybe this franchise was never meant to die so easily.

Despite massive skepticism, “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” launched a third version of the Apes story – and a second version of an origin where a super-intelligent ape named Caesar rose during the first collapse of the human race. Unlike Burton’s reimagining, this one launched two more sequels, “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” and “War For The Planet Of The Apes” – each one more acclaimed and more historic for Andy Serkis and WETA’s motion-capture performances than the last. But with no Serkis and no Matt Reeves as director, “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” will restart the story for a fourth time, hundreds of years after Caesar began the apes’ rule over Earth.

Whether or not it includes new characters, restarting a long-established franchise with a new timeline is pretty much required for a series to reach ten movies or more. Exceptions include the “Fast and the Furious” saga – now at eleven combined movies with Vin Diesel and his family still surviving and/or coming back to life time and again – and the “Saw” series, which just turned eleven combined films old, despite Jigsaw dying eight movies ago. Yet its most recent prequel “Saw X” was the most liked installment in some time, which was a better outcome than “Fast X” when it started the so-called final chapter of the Fast saga.

A few pre-Saw slasher franchises have repeatedly brought back killers, though only a few have a double-digit number of resurrections. The “Halloween” franchise has restarted three versions of Michael Myers over 13 films – eight from the original series, two from Rob Zombie, and a trilogy of reimagined sequels to the first “Halloween.” Only Jason Vorhees has been that resilient through ten original “Friday the 13th” films, one crossover showdown with Freddy Krueger, and a 2009 remake.

The “Star Wars” saga has told one continuous story in 11 films, made up of three separate trilogies and two offshoots. But each trilogy has been its own reincarnation, from the beloved original trilogy to the initially despised prequel trilogy and then the beloved turned despised sequel trilogy. Various Disney+ shows have kept the saga going – though they have also been more and more hated over time – yet it hasn’t returned to the big screen since “The Rise of Skywalker” cratered five years ago. A few proposed new films are scheduled to launch by the end of the decade, yet after several scrapped projects and backlash to most of the last several completed ones, weary fans will believe it or have faith in it when they see it at this point.

As for the other long-running “Star” franchise, the “Star Trek” series is up to 13 combined movies and three versions of the Enterprise since 1979. Like the “Planet Of The Apes,” the “Star Trek” brand has endured ever since the ’60s, though it started on TV in the ’60s when the Apes conquered theaters first. But it made up for the slow start with six movies starring the original TV show crew, four starring the “Next Generation” crew, and the next three with a younger Kirk, Spock, and company from an alternate timeline. Yet, like with “Star Wars,” multiple plans have fallen through over the years for the next “Star Trek” film – whether it concludes the new big-screen version or launches a fourth one.

While the “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” sagas have had bigger hits and a bigger cultural impact than the “Planet Of The Apes,” they have both had more infamous low points and are currently stuck on how to reach a high point in theaters again. Nonetheless, they have both reinvented themselves many times before, although they never really had to start over completely. Through the decades, the “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” franchises have never truly cut the cords from their most iconic characters – whether they rebooted or aged them, returned to their origin stories, or just gave them children or successors.

In that context, “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” is taking a much bigger gamble with a storyline set long after Caesar’s death, led by a new young ape hero, an aspiring ape king/tyrant, and the last smart human on Earth. They are all untied to any past or future characters as far as we know, but time will tell if it is meant to continue as a stand-alone story or if its ultimate goal leads to the creation of the original 1968 “Planet Of The Apes” society – and showing another human from the past crashing into it. If the names Cornelius, Zira, or Zaius are ever uttered or hinted at in “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” or any future sequel, then there’ll be a much better idea of where this restart is heading.

Leaving aside how Serkis’s Caesar is technically the second version of the character, the “Planet Of The Apes” series hasn’t depended on rebooting or reusing past characters up to this point. It’s certainly not like the four different versions of Spider-Man through 13 films – three with Tobey Maguire, two with Andrew Garfield, three lead and supporting roles each for Tom Holland in the MCU, and two animated multiverse films – or all the various versions of Batman from Adam West to the most recent “The Batman” from “Planet Of The Apes'” own Reeves. It’s also not even close to James Bond and his 27 combined films with six different 007s, though nothing else outside of Godzilla ever has been.

On a modest scale by comparison, the X-Men cinematic universe has combined for three original films, four prequels, three solo Wolverine movies, three Deadpool movies, and one tossed aside “The New Mutants” offshoot. Also, the Harry Potter Wizarding World is currently stuck on eight Potter films and a three-film “Fantastic Beasts” series that was originally supposed to get to five. However, a 12th Harry Potter-related film may be inevitable at some point, no matter how much the Wizarding World’s creator has alienated her audience.

At one point or another, all these decades-old franchises reached a point where audiences dreaded the next installments instead of anticipating them. And at one point or another, they all recovered and made everyone chomp at the bit for more again until the bottom fell out again. The “Planet Of The Apes” series has also gone through that cycle once or twice, whether its low point was at the end of the original series or the confounding end of Burton’s remake.

Thanks to the Serkis/Caesar trilogy, the “Planet Of The Apes” legacy went from a one- or two-hit wonder extended way past its prime—much like the Ghostbusters and Terminator sagas—to a legacy that rivals the most durable in Hollywood history. Now, if “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” can extend more new life and launch another game-changing series 56 years after the first one started, it will carve an even deeper place in humanity’s hearts.

Although the 1968 “Planet Of The Apes” has perhaps the most famous ending of all time, it ironically wasn’t remotely close to being the story’s real ending. Yet it may well be that “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” makes audiences even less eager to see this world come to an end – which not every franchise can brag about after its tenth film.

Have you seen “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” yet? If so, what do you think of it? What movie are you most looking forward to watching this summer? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account.

You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @Robertdoc1984

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