‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ shows that you can teach an old franchise new tricks

‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ shows that you can teach an old franchise new tricks
  • PublishedMay 12, 2024

Seven years after a trilogy that ended with Caesar (Andy Serkis) leading his flock to the promised land, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” didn’t exactly have a clear road map for where and how to revive the franchise. Given that, this latest addition surpasses expectations, honoring the source while building a muscular and even thoughtful adventure around a very ape-centric concept.

Jumping several hundred years into the future, the new movie perhaps inevitably starts a bit slowly, in part because it’s starting almost completely from scratch in terms of characters and plot. While the premise sounds like the height of simplicity – the son of an invaded tribe embarks on a quest to find and save his brethren – the lens widens to lay out additional possibilities, although the film nicely stands on its own (and frankly, would probably be better if it just concluded where it did).

The audience, ultimately, will determine whether “Planet of the Apes” swings again, but 56 years after the startling revelation that greeted Charlton Heston in the very first film, the idea has proven extremely hard to kill, evolving (not always for the better) in a variety of ways. What’s more, these movies are now distributed by Disney, which both knows something about film franchises and could use another, especially with other parts of its portfolio looking shakier in recent years.

In this new telling, the story hinges on Noa (voiced by Owen Teague), whose peaceful existence is dealt a sudden, violent blow when the forces of Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand) – an ape who yearns to expand his kingdom – attack, killing many and taking the survivors captive.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Noa (voiced by Owen Teague) in “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.” 20th Century Studios

Noa takes off after them, encountering a wise orang, Raka (Peter Macon), and a human woman (“The Witcher’s” Freya Allan), who clearly knows more than the feral people to which the apes are accustomed, but whose interest in Proximus and joining Noa on the dangerous search to find him represents a source of mystery.

A veteran of the “Maze Runner” movies, director Wes Ball and writer Josh Friedman cover a great deal of ground in setting all that up, and still find time to throw in moments of humor and clever homages to the original movie. The visual effects are especially good and convincing, a must when the vast majority of characters are digitally rendered, while communicating using a mix of sign and spoken language.

The real magic, though, comes in taking such a familiar blueprint in directions that manage to feel surprising, not reinventing “The Planet of the Apes” but reinvigorating it in satisfying ways despite lacking the glue Serkis provided in the most recent run.

Hollywood blockbusters aren’t normally the place one goes to see old dogs learn new tricks, but these “Apes” prove that even old-fashioned cash grabs don’t have to be devoid of ingenuity or ambition. Whether that translates into an appetite for revisiting this planet, give credit where it’s due for a leap into the unknown that, for the most part, sticks the landing.


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