Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is Disney's next great adventure

by Charles Gerian

“We will learn. Apes will learn. *I* will learn. And I will CONQUER!”

A monkey, a mute, and a monk save…or doom… the world.

This past weekend saw the release of the highly anticipated KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, the 4th entry in the rebooted “Apes” saga that began with 2011’s “RISE” and continued with 2014’s “DAWN” and 2017’s “WAR”.

Set 300 years after “WAR”, KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is set in a world where the apes are the majority and humans are a mostly primitive species.

The film follows Noa, a young ape belonging to a falconry clan, who finds his life up-ended when his people are attacked and enslaved by the legion of a war-mongering leader named Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand) who perverts the original Caesar’s teachings and ways to enslave human and ape alike.

On his journey to rescue his people, Noa (Owen Teague) comes across an old monk of the original Caesar’s teachings named Raka (Peter Macon) and a human girl named Mae (Freya Allen) who aide him on his quest…with Mae being more than she appears, setting these apes, the kingdom, and their planet on an ominous date with destiny.

“KINGDOM” is the first Apes movie to be released under Disney’s 20th Century Studios after their 2018 acquisition of 20th Century Fox, and the film in many ways feels like the kind of action adventure franchises Disney used to produce in the late 1990’s and 2000’s in the best possible way.

Wes Ball helms KINGDOM, giving us a look at a world without humans. Towering cities are covered in moss and vines, a beautifully haunting image that seems inspired by recent video games like PlayStation’s “The Last of Us” and “Horizon Zero Dawn”. It is a stirring visual that was no doubt also influenced by the viral photos of the early days of the COVID lockdown where rivers and oceans were clear of pollution and nature slowly began to restore itself.

Owen Teague’s Noa is a conflicted protagonist, making him extremely interesting to follow, especially as he overcomes his own mistrust and dismissive attitude towards humans or “Echoes” as his tribe refers to them as. His travel buddy, Raka, teaches Noa in the way of the original Caesar which clashes with Noa’s sheltered understanding of the world.

The action is fantastic here of course, and director Ball makes creative use of verticality to really sell the dynamic motion of his on-screen primates, brought to life with excellent CGI and motion capture. However, Ball’s combat falls short of the heights that Matt Reeves achieved with the brutal and unflinching entries “DAWN” and “WAR”.

Ball is extremely gifted when it comes to harkening back to the original 1968 film while putting his own stamp on things, including a scene that mirrors the original “human roundup” that we find Charlton Heston’s Colonel Taylor in.

This film also doesn’t shy away from the complicated themes and questions the series is known for. The “Apes” franchise has always held a mirror up to society, addressing animal cruelty and testing, nuclear war, segregation, themes of racial injustice, the morals of scientific advancement, and more.

In “KINGDOM”, Wes Ball and writer Josh Friedman interestingly tackle religion and legacy. Kevin Durand’s villain ape Proximus Caesar proclaims himself as the next Caesar, misconstruing and twisting the original Caesar’s teachings to instill fear and fervent dedication among his followers.

We see how, over 300 years, the teachings and values of the original Caesar have been lost or transformed by the passage of time, much how the Bible or any other religious text has taken on (or been twisted into) new meaning and interpretation to fit one’s agendas however noble or nefarious they may be.

“KINGDOM” also gives audiences two protagonists with questionable ethics and internal struggles, namely with the two leaders Noa and Mae, culminating in one particular shot at the end of the film which received gasps from the audience I saw it with. It’s powerful stuff, and is worthy of being discussed alongside the 1968 original’s generation and genre-defining image of the State of Liberty in the sand.

And the ending, God what an ending. One watches it with the same dread and wonder of this year’s DUNE: PART II as a troubling omen of things to come.

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a thrilling action-adventure that is accessible to all audiences and stirs memories of the days when Disney could produce absolutely solid movies that didn’t rely on superheroes or decrepit franchise players and gaudy CGI cameos.

It will also open up conversations with families as to what makes a good leader, and how teachings can be misconstrued over time.

The film is now playing at the Cowley Cinema 8 in Ark City and The Hub in Tonkawa.