Human-Ape Conflict Resurfaces in Visually Stunning 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

"Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" brings back the existential conflict between humans and apes in a visually breathtaking, thought-provoking sci-fi adventure set in a richly detailed world

by Sededin Dedovic
Human-Ape Conflict Resurfaces in Visually Stunning 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes
© 20th Century Studios / YOutube channel

The existential conflict between humans and apes resurfaces in the new "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes," this time with a coming-of-age sci-fi adventure that is part of a visually stunning world-building, more thoughtful than coherent.

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” is a sequel to the stellar “Apes” trilogy led by the legendary chimpanzee leader Caesar, played by Andy Serkis. Set in a landscape where humans have gone wild while super-intelligent apes rule thanks to a man-made virus, director Wes Ball ("Maze Runner") is a proven figure in the post-apocalyptic space.

The "Planet of the Apes" aims to infuse grand ideas into the lavish atmosphere of a blockbuster, though this ambition sometimes weighs it down. The new “Apes” is set “many generations later” after Caesar’s death, portraying a kind and compassionate species that believed humans and apes could one day live together.

His spirit hovers over "Kingdom," centered on a naive young chimpanzee named Noah (played by Owen Teague) in a world where nature has reclaimed the land. Noah and his friends, Anaya (Travis Jeffery) and Soona (Lydia Peckham), are ready for a big day among the Eagle clan—named for the birds they breed.

However, their peaceful village life is disrupted by a brutal attack from a horde of masked apes who burn Noah’s home and leave him for dead. Noah wakes up, beaten, and vows to save his friends and family who were kidnapped.

He first encounters Raka (Peter Macon), a wise orangutan who lives by Caesar’s idealistic beliefs. They meet a young human named Mae (Freya Allan), initially distrustful of her new allies until they save her from the same evil apes who burned Noah’s village.

Director Wes Ball breathes new life into the global, epic franchise set several generations in the future following Caesar’s r© 20th Century Studios / YOutube channel

The trio discovers that these villains are bullies for the tyrannical bonobo Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand).

Ruling a coastal ape kingdom, Proximus has taken Caesar’s name but twists his words to force his captives to break into a great vault to find a mysterious human treasure. He symbolizes humanity's inherent cruelty in ape form.

Noah isn’t as complex a protagonist as Caesar from the previous trilogy, embarking on a simpler heroic journey. Nevertheless, he is likable and easy to root for, with Teague delivering a solid performance, conveying the character's doubts and desire to understand the sinister stories he’s heard about humans (or echos, as his clan calls them) and the real human he now travels with.

As in the previous films, the main attraction is the apes themselves, computer-generated wonders that immerse the audience in their world. They look better than ever, with Noah’s teary eyes bringing so much fragility and emotion in close-up after a tragic scene.

The motion capture magic, a hallmark of these new “Apes” films, feels more revolutionary than ever.

Director Wes Ball breathes new life into the global, epic franchise set several generations in the future following Caesar’s r© 20th Century Studios / YOutube channel

At the same time, none of the main players in "Kingdom" reach the same level of acting or personality as Serkis’s Caesar.

This is a high bar to meet, but there are some quite remarkable apes: Teague’s Noah is endearing because of his plight, while Macon’s Raka is a scene-stealer with a good soul. Allan, a regular in Netflix's "The Witcher," also shines as a human more complex than she appears.

The early “Apes” films from the 60s and 70s were defined by genre innovation and shocking endings, while the Caesar films were simply great storytelling. “Kingdom” is less confident in its storytelling: it explores themes of legacy and species coexistence with a plot full of metaphors that feels too long at 2.5 hours, requiring more exposition at the start before becoming excessive later.

The film ultimately satisfies with its ending, emphasizing philosophy and message over logical narrative choices. "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" ticks most boxes for longtime “Apes” fans, and newcomers need no prior homework as it’s a standalone story that explains itself well.

As humans, you empathize with the apes on screen, missing Caesar’s presence. Overall, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a worthy continuation of a series now comprising 10 films over more than 50 years. The geniuses at Wētā continue to create new wonders in bringing digital apes to life, greatly aided by a talented cast and the very physical work done on set in motion capture suits.

These are entirely convincing characters that look realistic and completely believable, mimicking human actions. The details in the apes are simply incredible, from the depth and emotion in their eyes to the saliva visible in their mouths.