Saturday, May 18, 2024

“KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES”

THE STORYMany years after the reign of Caesar, a young ape goes on a journey that will lead him to question everything he’s been taught about the past and make choices that will define a future for apes and humans alike.

THE CASTOwen Teague, Freya Allan, Kevin Durand, Peter Macon & William H. Macy

THE TEAMWes Ball (Director) & Josh Friedman (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 145 Minutes


The “Planet of the Apes” franchise has been one of the longest-running film series in Hollywood, starting with the 1968 original, its sequels, Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, then the re-booted 2010 trilogy beginning with “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” which introduced audiences to the Ape character Caesar (brilliantly brought to life by the legendary Andy Serkis). This led to Matt Reeves coming on board as director to close out the trilogy with “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” and “War For The Planet Of The Apes.” All three of the Caesar films were critically acclaimed, were box office successes, and earned Oscar nominations for Best Visual Effects. Now, seven years later, with no Matt Reeves, no Andy Serkis, and “The Maze Runner” director Wes Ball stepping into the director’s chair with an all-new cast of characters, we have “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.” Employing the same groundbreaking visual effects technology used to bring apes to life in the 2010 trilogy, “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” is still set within the world of Caesar and all he left behind but seeks to re-establish its dominant reign over Hollywood by setting itself apart with a whole new trilogy.

Opening with a ceremonial funeral for Caesar, who succumbed to his wounds at the end of “War For The Planet Of The Apes,” it’s apparent by starting the film off this way his legacy will loom large over “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.” Three hundred years (or, as the film’s text card says, “many generations”) have passed. Apes are now the dominant species on the planet after the Simian Flu virus wiped out most of humanity and left those who were still alive without the ability to speak, and their intelligence significantly diminished. Knowledge of what once was the world before Apes took over has mostly been forgotten or kept by clan elders who have passed information down from generation to generation, with facts either becoming lost or twisted for selfish gain. One such clan is The Eagle Clan, a peaceful village of apes who bond with eagles at birth and help nurture them to their benefit.

Noa (Owen Teague) is an ape with the burden of expectation placed upon him as his caring father (Neil Sandilands) is one of the clan’s elders. When his egg, which he had to risk a dangerous climb to obtain, is broken, he ventures out into the night before the morning of his ceremony to get another egg without his father noticing. However, while he’s gone, his village is raided by a rival clan wearing masks and carrying out their attack in the name of Caesar. They’re searching for a particular human because she’s smarter than most and may know something they need to unlock a vault that contains human secrets (government information, technology, weapons, etc.). When Noa returns, he finds his village has been burnt to the ground and his father slain.

Noa sets off on a quest, not for revenge, but to bring his friends and remaining family who have been taken captive back home. His journey leads him to meet Raka (Peter Macon), a wise and virtuous orangutan who worships Caesar and tries to spread his teachings to other apes for good, for he knows Caesar led with decency, morality, compassion, and strength. The two come across the human the other apes have been hunting, Mae (Freya Allan), who the apes initially call Nova (a callback to the mute girl from “War For The Planet Of The Apes“). Through Raka’s wisdom and kind heart, Noa grows to understand humans better and their relationship with apes. The mercy and compassion they show Mae give her the security to open up more to them about why she, too, wants to get into the vault. The vault the apes want to open is not going to be easy, though, as the containments inside are sought after by a very powerful ape leader, or self-proclaimed king, Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), who commands a legion of apes by the sea from inside a rusted ship washed up on the shore. Knowledge is power, and Proximus seeks to acquire this at any cost, putting Noa’s friends and family to work through his authoritarian rule, establishing himself as a new Caesar for what he believes to be his kingdom of apes.

Understandably, one would be nervous about Wes Ball taking over directing duties for the “Planet Of The Apes” following the massive success of the 2010’s Caesar trilogy. “The Maze Runner” films weren’t exactly everyone’s favorite films, and moving on from what many have in the seven years since “War For The Planet Of The Apes” have described as a near-perfect trilogy wasn’t going to be an easy task. Well, fans of the franchise can rejoice, for as Proximus Caesar says, “What a wonderful day” indeed. “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” is a jaw-dropping spectacle. But more so than that, it retains the heart of the previous three films, engrossing us in the world and getting us to care deeply about each of the newly introduced characters. At 145 minutes, this is the longest “Planet Of The Apes” film yet, and although it may take some time to get going, Ball puts that runtime to good use. Special care is paid to establishing the world and how much it has changed since “War For The Planet Of The Apes,” introducing us to all-new characters, allowing us time to get to know them so we develop a strong emotional attachment to them. This all pays off significantly when the film reaches the action-packed third act, and by the time the film is over, it’s safe to say most audiences will be clamoring for more monkey business.

Owen Teague delivers an outstanding performance as Noa. He may not have the same display of power and leadership as Serkis’s Caesar had. Still, when the film concludes, Teague successfully conveys Noa’s arc from a wide-eyed, blissful follower to the same strong leader as Caesar once was for his people. There’s still room for the character to grow, though. Teague’s commitment to nailing down the mannerisms, physicality, and cadence set by Serkis’s work is impressive and creates a seamless continuity from the last batch of films to this one.

However, Teague isn’t the only noteworthy performance as the two other main ape characters of Raka and Proximus Caesar are brought to vivid life by Peter Macon and Kevin Durand, respectively. Macon injects Raka with warmth and a sense of humor that is instantly endearing. Wearing the window symbol from “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” around his neck like a crucifix (he even asks for Caesar’s forgiveness when he defends himself against Proximus’s apes), his character embodies how the teachings and legacy of Caesar have been used for good while Proximus Caesar uses them for his own selfish gain oppressively enforcing upon all those who would defy him that he is the second coming of Caesar. Durand’s Proximus Caesar is intimidating and menacing, able to instill fear with just a slight glance. It’s a spellbinding performance from the character actor that instantly ranks as one of his very best.

Less remarkable are the human characters, which isn’t surprising since we spend less time with them, but there are only two. There’s Mae, and then there’s Trevathan (William H. Macy), a human in servitude to Proximus Caesar out of fear and because it provides “a good life” amidst a world that is no longer favorable towards humans. While it’s always a delight to see Macy on screen in any capacity, his character is introduced too late and not delved into deep enough to make his character worthwhile, especially as it contrasts against the defiant and resourceful Mae. Freya Allen does a respectable job with the at-first mysterious character. She eventually comes into her own as the character starts to open up more. Still, there’s a weakness within the writing for the character, which holds her back too much throughout the narrative, making her Mary Sue persona in the third act jarring. Her best moments, though, and perhaps the best moments of the entire film, are the moments where she and Noa establish a connection of mercy, respect, and understanding between one another. Their relationship begs the question, “Is coexistence still possible between apes and humans now that their roles on the planet have been reversed?” While the film does not provide an answer to this question, it lays the groundwork to further explore this theme in future films.

Ball may have nailed the story and characters for this new installment, but what most people are going to come for are the unbelievable visual effects by Wētā FX. The 2010’s “Planet Of The Apes” trilogy further pushed the boundaries of what was possible with motion capture technology, and with each passing film, apes have been receiving more screen time than the humans, increasing the pressure placed upon the talented visual effects artists to find new ways to not only dazzle us with the sets (there is a smooth blend of natural environments shot on location with the CG characters which more filmmakers could afford to take notes on to save on their production budgets), action and life-like features of the apes but to immerse us within the world and the characters to the point that we forget we’re watching CGI characters. “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” is a tremendous visual feat with some of the best effects this franchise has ever seen and certainly the most stunning on the big screen since the release of “Avatar: The Way Of Water.” From Noa’s opening climb to retrieve the eagle’s egg from a high nest up on a cliff to the climatic scene from inside the vault, where the camera glides through an intricately laid out set, to, of course, the breathtaking details on the character’s faces in their closeups, the team at Wētā FX have outdone themselves yet again.

Although the pacing may be a bit slow in the early going, and Michael Giacchino’s score composition is undoubtedly missed, there’s very little fault with what Wes Ball has accomplished with “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes.” Amidst all the world-building and visual effects work, this latest film in the decades-old franchise never wavers from its emotional core, making it a worthy successor to the 2010’s re-booted trilogy, which brought the franchise newfound appreciation, respect, and fans for a whole new generation. Those fans will not be disappointed with what Ball, the wizards at Wētā FX, and the cast have put together here as “Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes” lays a solid enough foundation with characters we care about and a fascinating commentary on distorting ideals, misappropriating christ-like figures, and the search for knowledge as a means to evolve, to take the “Planet Of The Apes” franchise into a new era.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Wes Ball wisely takes his time establishing the state of the planet set many generations after the last film, exploring how the Christ-like legend of Caesar has spread for both good and evil, and introducing us to new characters we grow to care about. Impressive motion capture performances and visual effects.

THE BAD - Pacing might feel slow for some early on. It will take some adjusting to not having Andy Serkis's Caesar around. Human characters and performances are less engaging than the apes. The score doesn't make much of an impression.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Visual Effects

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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Matt Neglia
Matt Negliahttps://nextbestpicture.com/
Obsessed about the Oscars, Criterion Collection and all things film 24/7. Critics Choice Member.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Wes Ball wisely takes his time establishing the state of the planet set many generations after the last film, exploring how the Christ-like legend of Caesar has spread for both good and evil, and introducing us to new characters we grow to care about. Impressive motion capture performances and visual effects.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Pacing might feel slow for some early on. It will take some adjusting to not having Andy Serkis's Caesar around. Human characters and performances are less engaging than the apes. The score doesn't make much of an impression.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-visual-effects/">Best Visual Effects</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES"