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Review: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Almost 10 years since the last entry in the franchise, War for the Planet of the Apes, the apes are back in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, a solid continuation that doesn’t quite hit the heights of the previous trilogy.

Generations after Caesar fought and died for the freedom of Apekind, a young ape named Noa (Owen Teague) lives with his clan and prepares for a ceremony where he will be bonded with an egg that will hatch into an eagle, which Noa’s tribe clan trains.  The night before the ceremony, Noa’s clan is found by the army of Proxima Caesar (Kevin Durand), a ruthless ape dictator who takes Noa’s clan as forced labor.  Noa sets out to find his clan and is joined along the way by Raka (Peter Macon), an orangutan who seeks to maintain the teachings and history of Caesar, and Nova (Freya Allen), a human who proves to be much smarter than she first appears to be.  The plot is more straightforward than the two Matt Reeves entries in the franchise, and it feels a bit bloated with a runtime just shy of 2 ½ hours.  It takes quite a while for the movie to get to Proxima, who injects a ton of malevolent energy into the back half of the movie, but we probably could have gotten to him and his beachside kingdom a bit sooner. The look of the world is fantastic, with the post-apocalyptic landscapes that director Wes Ball has experience with from The Maze Runner franchise.  The apes themselves also still look incredible, with the combination of CG and motion capture that makes them feel like living, breathing creatures and you are never taken out of the movie from them seeming unrealistic. The direction of this new potential trilogy also seems a bit odd, especially what’s set up in the final scenes, and it seems to be counter to what the new series of Planet of the Apes movies have been building up.

While none of the new characters have the presence and gravitas of Andy Serkis as Caesar, they are mostly all still interesting, especially the apes.  Noa is a solid protagonist; we’re experiencing the outside world with him as he goes beyond his clan’s territory. While not anything we haven’t seen, his arc is still pretty satisfying, and there’s some interesting ambiguity and mistrust of humanity, even after his adventures in this movie.  Peter Macon as Raka is an absolute delight and brings a playful warmth to his section of the movie, mentoring Noa in the old ways and Caesar’s teachings.  Kevin Durand is no stranger to bad guys and does a great job of making Proxima an appropriately ruthless antagonist but, as mentioned, I wish he showed up a bit sooner.  The human side of things doesn’t hit the same level as the previous trilogy, with Freya Allen being a bit one-note and William H. Macy being okay but not really in the movie enough to make much of an impact.  There’s definitely not someone like Woody Harrelson from War to complement the ape characters.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a solid continuation of the franchise that doesn’t quite reach the level of Dawn or War, but it is mostly satisfying and thrilling as a new start to a new series.  The ending does raise some questions and possible concerns about where the franchise is heading but I’m still curious and interested to see where it goes.

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