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KINGDOM of THE PLANET OF THE APES: A Serviceable, Unexciting Reboot

Sci-Fi in scope and post-apocalyptic in theme, KINGDOM of THE PLANET OF THE APES tells the story of young Noa.  He and two friends are set to undergo the bonding ceremony with his chosen eaglet in a rite of passage. The ceremony is curtailed by a marauding group of gorillas, and Noa’s family and tribe are killed or abducted. In the ensuing story, Noa follows the kidnappers in a rescue attempt. He is joined by a wise orangutan Raka (Peter Macon) and a mysterious, but silent human female, whom they name Nova (Freya Allen, but whose real name is Mae. With Nova/Mae’s guidance, the three set off to infiltrate and ultimately overcome renegade ruler Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand).

 

This reviewer finds the Apes franchise more compelling than that of the more recently conceived AVATAR, but the themes are basically the same: humans are corrupt and greedy, a menace to the planet and all its other life-forms. In this film, however, our species has its come-uppance, as a virus has rendered humans—or most of them—mute and unintelligent, while the same virus allowed apes to evolve with human speech.

 

KINGDOM’s storyline seems unnecessarily complicated, as audiences follow the somewhat shy and self-effacing Noa on his literal (a poorly paced road trip) and symbolic hero’s journey. Although many fans (and some reviewers) will trace this installment’s story back to the original 1968 Charlton Heston film and compare it to the earlier three-part reboot from the mid 2000s, this review will consider it as a stand-alone movie.[i]

 

KINGDOM fits the summer block-buster formula—plenty of action, lots of violence, and big, bold sets serving as back-drops to large battles easily-identified between good and evil factions.

 

While the fusion of human actor and animation is an outstanding feat, the ape characters, Noa, mother Dar (Sara Wiseman), and friends Soona (Lydia Peckham) and Anaya (Travis Jeffery) are not made sympathetic. Despite being given back-story and context, most characters remain flat. The technology is really the star of the show, with Weta FX transforming actors wearing performance capture suits and head-mounted cameras into completely CGI (computer-generated imagery) characters.

 

There are only two main human characters in the film, and the lead Nova (Freya Allen) is neither compelling nor relatable, whether that is a failure in scripting or a acting, this reviewer cannot say.  Nova /Mae remains, not an enigma, but merely an un(der)developed character, whose most interesting contribution to the film is her forest-grunge costuming.

 

Ironically, the only two actors who offer stand out performances are those intended to be caricature: Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), the insane and egotistical ape-ruler and Trevathan (William H. Macy) his human tutor. Macy’s Trevathan combines a casual kindness with world-weariness into a surprisingly affecting portrayal for such a small role, while Durand’s Proximus captures the charisma, self-delusion, and compelling narcissism of despots Seen in Forest Whitaker’s Ida Amin in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, John Hurt’s Adam Sutler in V for VENDETTA, or Bruno Ganz’s Hitler in DOWNFALL.

 

Macy’s character introduces the betrayer/traitor trope of the colonialization narratives. These tropes are nuanced and well-drawn, with accusations being levelled variously at Trevathan, Nova, and Noa. The issue of making uncomfortable alliances to survive is one of the film’s best-delineated themes, as is the nature of evil. No stark binaries are drawn, and no simplistic solutions are offered. The film does not simply denigrate humans because the intellectually evolved apes also abuse and enslave others.

 

The peace and prosperity preached by Raka are possible, as Noa’s clan demonstrates; but their return to their village is marked as a tenuous victory because with their help Nova/Mae has fulfilled her mission and restored satellite communication to the surviving humans barricaded in fall-out shelters. The seeds for a sequel are so large and the idea of a sequel is trumpeted so loudly throughout the film that it is difficult to finish this one and feel excitement about the inevitable clash that is to come (again) between human and ape.

 

 

 


[i] The original franchise consisted of five films (an original with four sequels) throughout a period of six years. A reboot series was started in 2011 with Rupert Wyatt’s RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, followed by Matt Reeves’ two sequels, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017).

 

 

 

Reviewed by Merry L. Byrd, 6 June 2024

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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