Film review: Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes

Stop monkeying around: the next trilogy in the Planet Of The Apes saga gets off to a slow, but ultimately promising start…

Film review: Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes
Nick Ruskell

By the time Star Wars was released in 1977, Planet Of The Apes had already had the arse franchised off it to the tune of five movies, a live action TV series, and an animated spin-off. Only Star Trek pipped it to the position of granddaddy of all science fiction properties, and it beat that in the film races, having tied up its first movie outings a clear half-decade before Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Almost all of it was good, as well. The iconic Charlton Heston original from 1968 was a masterstroke of '60s sci-fi, filled with the wonder of what might lay beyond our frontiers (in an age before man had been to to the Moon), as well as an ironic sense of commentary and its now-spoiled-beyond-effectiveness surprise ending. Its leading man may have resisted a sequel (“Tacky”), and begrudgingly appeared in 1970’s Beneath… on the condition that his character, Taylor, and everything else was killed off to prevent it going any further, but its success showed not only that there was an appetite for more, but that there was a whole universe to be tapped. Beneath… was absolutely bonkers, while the following three overcame Heston’s protests by retransplanting the original idea into a mid-20th Century setting, albeit via slightly cumbersome time-travel explanation and with an occasional creative madness. If any series could hit the ground running into modern cinema's relentless mining of franchises, it is this.

So it is that, other than Mark Wahlberg’s laughable 2001 remake, the 21st Century wave of Planet Of The Apes stuff may have very little to do with the first movie – concentrating on how-we-got-there backstory and side-quest world-building – but remain in the spirit of its forebears. It’s also why the notion of a new trio of Apes stories, starting here, isn’t quite the exhausting, stop-stop-it’s-already-dead idea as a fourth Star Wars trilogy.

Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes tacks on to 2017’s War For… much more smoothly than its repetitive title scans. Caesar, the heroic leader from the recent trilogy, is dead, and in the future in which the movie is set, his name and teachings have become sacred. Humans are all but gone, killed off by a virus, and in their ruined, rusty world, ape tribes thrive, largely in peace. Until main character Noa comes across a sinister rogue ape while exploring, returning home to find his village ablaze and his father dead.

Swearing to track them, he hits the road, quickly meeting Raka, a sage old orangutan dedicated to Caesar’s peaceful teachings that “apes together strong” and “ape not kill ape”. Just as quickly, they find a human girl, Nova, who they take in on their quest. When Noa catches up with the bad bonobos he seeks, he finds that Caesar’s old ideas have been read more than one way, and their leader, Proximus Caesar, has worked it into the basis of a monkey-fascist society, an idea gleaned from being told stories of old Rome by captured human Trevathan. Big on “apes together strong”, he uses others as slaves to attempt to open the seemingly impenetrable door of a NORAD-styled facility to get to the weapons inside.

The first half is a slog, moving at about half the pace of evolution, going so slow you half expect them to awkwardly bump into Charlton Heston arriving before the movies have finished joining the timelines up. It’s not even slowly setting the scene, it just takes ages to go not very far at all.

The second is where things actually get going, and the usual Planet Of The Apes ironies and flipped perspectives and big questions of power begin to sprout up. With three forces at work – Noa, Proximus, and Nova’s alliance as a human – there’s growing tension as you begin to consider who’s actually a bad guy, or if anyone is truly a good guy.

Noa is a likeable lad, and when he hardens up, he’s believable in how his conflicts affect him. Proximus is a puffed-up douche, clearly hard, but with no real integrity or credibility beyond the law of the claw as a leader. He is, in a very Apes way, frighteningly prescient. But it’s also cunning, and the final plot to get one over on him is genuinely great, especially as the various parts fall into place.

It is, though, too long, and by the time you get to the action, the battery is starting to drain. As such, it’s the weakest of the recent movies. Three-quarters of an hour shorter, and it would have been much more effective and exciting, but as it sets up for the next chapter, it promises a lot more conflict and action.

Not ape shit, then, but it’s going to be at least the next instalment before monkey business is properly booming again.

Verdict: 3/5

Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes is out now via 20th Century Studios,

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