Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Movie Review: Manages to pack a punch despite a lack of emotional heft

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Movie Review: Manages to pack a punch despite a lack of emotional heft

The stakes are lower in Wes Ball's film, and it lacks the kind of heft and gravitas the previous outings in the franchise are known for, but there is still much to enjoy in it
Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes(2.5 / 5)

The pleasure of watching the Planet of the Apes franchise lies in discovering the sheer gravitas that its voice actors bring to its principal characters. This is most evident in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, where Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell steal the show as Caesar and Koba, respectively. With the able support of writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Matt Reeves, and Mark Bomback, the actors bring plenty of emotional heft to their characters while the story is imbued with Shakespearean levels of power, betrayal, tragedy, and loyalty. The vengeful and conniving Koba, for instance, has echoes of Shakespeare’s Richard III (titular character), Iago from Othello, and Edmund from King Lear. Likewise, Serkis’s Caesar, whose excessive nobility ultimately brings about his downfall, is a tragic figure along the lines of Julius Caesar. Wes Ball’s Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes has none of that emotional heft or gravitas to keep us engrossed in the proceedings for over two hours. However, it makes up for what it lacks in depth with a heartfelt story, reasonably engaging character development, and sheer spectacle.

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Lydia Peckham, Owen Teague, Kevin Durand, William H Macy, Eka Darville, Freya Allan

The film is set 300 years after the event of War for the Planet of the Apes. Apes are the dominant species in a world where humans barely exist. Even the ones who exist here behave more like apes than the primates themselves. In such a world, a talking human signifies the ultimate sophistication of human intelligence. Such sophistication is of little use in a world where power lies with Kevin Durand’s Proximus Caesar, who leads an army of rogue primates to plunder any and every ape clan in the name of Caesar while in hot pursuit of humans and their technology. One of the ape clans that come under Proximis’ powerful paws is Owen Teague’s Noa. He hardly knows who Caesar is or his history and has the conventional coming-of-age arc of a Disney character. Even his love interest (Lydia Peckham’s Soona) and friend (Travis Jeffery’s Anaya) seem straight out of a feel-good Disney universe rather than the intense outings earlier in the franchise.

Noa’s lack of awareness and curiosity to learn about his past is the element that drives the plot. It is also the reason why Ball and his writer Josh Friedman thrust Noa into the den of Raka, who appears older and more wisdom-spouting than in the previous instalments. Noa simply stumbles upon the den for no apparent reason other than to learn about his species’ history. This means that Raka’s existence in the story is, sadly, to recap the franchise and little else. When he keeps reminding Noa of who Caesar is and what he means to the new world, it is like the makers themselves are reminding us of the franchise’s glorious past. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes starts with a piece of text offering a recap of the events in the previous instalments, so another half an hour of Raka explaining Caesar’s existence is the last thing you need in a franchise film. Consequently, the first half of the film is so uneventful and underwhelming.

However, things perk up considerably more in the second half with the arrival of Durand’s Proximus Caesar, who has a twisted vision for the primates’ future and a twisted understanding of Caesar’s virtues. Durand is no Serkis and his Proximus is no Caesar, but at least the parts involving the megalomaniac antagonist remind us of the best aspects of the franchise. Further, Eka Darville is also a solid addition to the franchise as Sylva, a giant gorilla and loyal commander of Proximus' army. It is easy to mistake Sylva for Ty Olsson’s Red (donkey) from War for the Planet of the Apes, but his existence in the fourth instalment adds some much-needed momentum. A moment where he suddenly emerges out of a waterfall offers sheer gooseflesh, as does the high-pitched sound he makes while attacking the Noa clan. Gyula Pados' cinematography offers some great visuals, especially one where a woman rides a horse through the open plains.

Another reason why the second half works just enough to add up to an overall entertaining film is how Friedman and Ball incorporate elements of Noa’s Eagle Clan into his character arc. The use of an eagle adds a personal layer to Noa’s journey. Freya Allan has little role in the film as Mae, but she at least has an ulterior motive that adds to the larger franchise. And while some of the characters do not add much to the screenplay, such as William H Macy’s history-spouting Trevathan, the film has just enough in the way of characterisation, drama, and spectacle to entertain.

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