Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Review

Wes Ball’s Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is 20th Century Studios’ attempt to continue the Apes franchise. Does it work?

PLOT: Generations after the death of the Ape leader Caesar, humans have continued to slip down the evolutionary ladder, with apes taking their place. Noah (Owen Teague) is a young chimpanzee whose peace-loving village is attacked by an ape army led by the evil wannabe monarch, Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand). Vowing to rescue his kin, he sets off on a journey across the new wasteland of earth, where he encounters a human girl (Freya Allan), who becomes his tentative ally. 

REVIEW: It was never going to be easy following up on the pretty damn good Apes trilogy 20th Century Fox put out a little while back. Many forget that director Matt Reeves, who was elevated to the A-list thanks to his work on those films, actually only directed the second and third films of the trilogy, with Rupert Wyatt directing the first film, which wasn’t quite the epic the other two were. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say it was a kind of shaky start to what ended up being an amazing trilogy, so as such, I went into Wes Ball’s Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes willing to cut the former Maze Runner director a lot of slack.

Happily, Ball ended up making a good Planet of the Apes movie; even if it’s not quite the masterpiece, some of those breathless early reactions teased. In my opinion, there’s never actually been a bad Planet of the Apes movie, as the premise is just so interesting. Kingdom tries to act as a bit of a bridge between the Caesar trilogy and the original Apes series from the sixties and seventies. They use some of the same iconic shots and locations, and the score by John Paesano nods at Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score for the original in a pretty pleasing way.

The first half of Kingdom is actually great. It does a nice job of setting up where the Ape world is at in terms of evolution, with them now fully vocal, even if they speak slightly haltingly, still using the sign language from the last trilogy to communicate at times. The Ape world is fractured, and the movie starts to depict, in a fashion, how the Apes were united and the evolutionary hierarchy that evolved between them and the humans.

kingdom of the planet of the apes

The CGI is incredible, with the apes looking superb. Owen Teague’s Noa is a lower-key hero than Andy Serkis’s Caesar but by design. He’s a gentle figure who becomes hardened as the film goes on, paving the way for what could be an exciting trilogy that may show how his rule eventually helps shape society in a not altogether positive way. The entire Ape cast is pitch-perfect, especially The Orville’s Peter Macon (Bortus), who voices Raka, a wise Orangutan, and steals every scene (he must have one of the best voices in Hollywood). Kevin Durand makes for a surprisingly sympathetic villain; he is looking to unite his species against what he sees as a greater threat, even if he does so in a tyrannical way.

So it all sounds good, right? As long as the movie focuses on those damn dirty apes, it is. Where Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes starts to fall flat is when too much emphasis is placed on the humans, especially Freya Allan’s Mae. There’s nothing wrong with her performance, but the dynamic between her and Noah was done similarly (and to greater effect) in both Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Even worse, seeds are planted that suggest future films in the franchise will basically be War of the Planet of the Apes all over again, with future conflicts between humans and apes being what they’re building towards. Do we really need that? Didn’t the last trilogy cover that enough? Most of this movie teases a world where humans have completely slid down the evolutionary chain, but suddenly they seem to pull back on that intriguing idea, and the movie turns into too much of a clone of the other movies. That’s a shame; it was REALLY effective when it was doing its own thing.

Even if I was disappointed by how Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes plays out in its second half, I still had a good time with it. Half of the movie is excellent, making it a worthy addition to the franchise, even if the direction follow-up movies are heading in is a little too familiar for my tastes. As far as the series goes, I’d say it’s about on par with Rise, better than Burton’s remake and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, but not as good as the Reeves movies or some of the really classic ones from the sixties and seventies. 

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, CinemaCon

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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.