19 May 2024

Film Review – Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

Flogging a dead horse is a phrase used quite often in Hollywood, never more so than now as cinema sits in a precarious situation about its output, the content therein, and whether returning to the well time after time to try to make more money is smart business. Many franchises have laboured on long past their prime in the hopes of getting just one more big payday, while others have fallen foul to diminishing returns and audience stagnation. So when word came that the Planet of the Apes, so brilliantly made and finished in 2017 with War for the Planet of the Apes, was returning once more for a new tale, it was met with the usual “jumping the shark” rhetoric. You can see the appeal, of course, but was a new film going to undo all the great work that Andy Serkis, Matt Reeves, Rupert Wyatt, and more had done before? It was a risk, but given the response of audiences and critics to the previous trilogy, maybe it was one worth taking.

After Reeves, who made the two most recent installments, had flown off to Gotham City to try his hand at bringing The Caped Crusader to life once more, the baton was handed to Wes Ball, a filmmaker who has garnered his own set of admirers from his work with The Maze Runner series. Established at Fox, his abilities and talent were part of the studio fabric already, and seemed the perfect fit to take the series forward, especially having brought pathos and post-apocalyptic together so well for the aforementioned YA franchise. From the first frame to the last of Kingdom, you can feel Ball’s love and appreciation for the whole series in his storytelling, pacing, and thoughtfulness while still having the confidence to try his own thing, weaving a story that feels ripped from the news of the last few years as the fictional world starts to descend into its own anarchy and carnage.

Indeed, treating this as its entity rather than a straight sequel to what has gone before – it jumps some 300 years into the future so is far enough away not necessarily to be guided by the past – it still pays respect to its predecessor with its connecting branches. There is a slight overindulgence in the new world and its created splendour which does see the story sag and droop in its second act where much feels superfluous, but such is the care to create a balanced story about social and economic problems, war, and man’s fascination with tearing itself apart, that it still feels confident and thoughtful, not to mention supremely action-packed.

As ever, it’s the computer wizards who take all the real praises here, and four films deep, it still boggles the mind how they can produce such outstanding feats of technological magic, which are even more incredible given many other films with bigger budgets look much, much cheaper than these gems. They are helped along the way by the performances of its brilliant cast, led by Owen Teague, Kevin Durand, Peter Macon et al, whose commitment to “ape school” and helping bring these exceptional creatures to life is exemplary, and don’t forget Freya Allen performs well as the story’s sole human. It’s an ape’s world (or kingdom), and we still love living in it, even if we don’t have much left.

★★★★

In cinemas May 9th / Owen Teague, Freya Allen, Kevin Durand, Peter Macon, William H. Macy / Dir: Wes Ball / 20th Century Studios / 12A


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