Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024) Review

Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.

The Planet of the Apes films hold a very unique place in cinematic history. It has the distinction of being the very first film franchise to be merchandised with toys, clothes, lunch boxes and so on, yet it isn’t shamed for being so, unlike other media empires like Star Wars or Marvel. There are a multitude of reasons for this. Firstly, the best Planet of the Apes films are science fiction films aimed at slightly older viewers, unlike other franchises which are aimed at children. Secondly, the series is defined by its sombre climaxes, often avoiding the typical happily ever after. Thirdly, this darker, more series approach makes it difficult for the studio to keep churning them out. This has proven to benefit the series greatly, as viewers are actually given the opportunity to forget about the films, and can be excited again once a new one emerges. While this worked wonders for the reboot trilogy from 2011 to 2017, is this still working for the latest offering, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)?

Owen Teague and Peter Macon as Noa and Raka.

Set many generations after the end of War for Planet of the Apes (2017), rule over the earth has been inherited by intelligent and evolved apes, while humans have regressed into being feral and animalistic. In one of the peaceful Ape clans, we meet Noa (Owen Teague), a young chimpanzee and son of Koro (Neil Sandilands), the leader of the tribe. Their peaceful existence is interrupted by an attack from a violent clan led by Proximus (Kevin Durand), an ambitious dictator interested in complete supremacy over humans and apes. Proximus and his clan appear to worship the teachings of a legendary ape named Caesar (Andy Serkis), whom we last saw lead his apes to freedom (before dying) in War for the Planet of the Apes. However, in his mission to rescue his captured clan, Noa meets a wise orangutan named Raka (Peter Macon), and a mysterious feral human girl (Freya Allan), learning that Proximus and his apes may be misinterpreting the words of Caesar. 

Despite the proven longevity of the series, there has been some nervousness around the release of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. This is because the previous trilogy of films turned out to be some of the best examples of blockbuster filmmaking as art in recent years. Across those three films, we were given an exciting, topical and emotional epic, with groundbreaking visual effects, and a story which came to a satisfying close. Thus, there didn’t seem to be that much need for a follow up. However, as War for the Planet of the Apes takes place roughly 2000 years before the events of the 1968 original, there’s plenty of room for filmmakers to play with before the series runs out of steam. The trick would be to come up with original ideas, as these films would surely feel stale after 2000 years worth of repetition. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes does indeed play the hits, but still manages to chart a new course.

Freya Allan as Nova.

The previous film delivered an adventure with the scope and scale of Apocalypse Now (1979), so Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes has pulled things back, telling a fairly simple story with a clear goal. This is rather refreshing, as so many blockbusters actively try to be the biggest and most spectacular experience possible, often with very disappointing results. The heroes this time around have a very uncomplicated journey, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Screenwriter Josh Friedman delivers a fairly effective screenplay, unravelling the narrative threads one by one in a clear manner. None of the reveals are groundbreaking, yet they are cleverly concealed, and therefore are enjoyable when they occur.

All that being said, the simplicity of the story doesn’t mean Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is totally devoid of some grandeur. The film’s greatest achievement is its excellently balanced world-building, as it manages to respect the continuity of the entire series, whilst it also introduces some new pieces of information. The most impressive element is how the film makes the world feel large without defying its small story. Many of the side characters seem to be the heroes of their own films, we just happen to be following Noa’s adventure. This makes the film feel like just one tiny piece of an endlessly large planet of apes. Rarely has any franchise sequel successfully expanded the possibilities, and yet Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes does so in very modest fashion.

A big old ship.

While the film’s considerable merits elevate it to far higher standards than expected, there are equally considerable issues holding it back. Namely, the protagonist Noa leaves something to be desired. He is a perfectly functional hero with a defined arc and goal, and is performed well by Owen Teague, but he is a fairly bland character compared to the series’ previous protagonist, Caesar. This isn’t a deal breaker, as there’s plenty of interesting and compelling apes (and people) to unpack. Chief among them being Freya Allan as the mute, feral human, Nova. The full truth surrounding Nova isn’t revealed until very late into the film, and Allan is easily able to keep the mystery up, holding the viewer’s interest the entire time. Kevin Durand and Peter Macon also make an impression as Proximus and Raka respectively, earning their place among the series’ most memorable players.

Additionally, the previous films were renowned for their stellar direction and flawless visual effects. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes meets the franchise standard, yet doesn’t improve on it. Most notably, the apes are just as life-like as they were in War for the Planet of the Apes, which puts it in the realm of having Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) level visuals. The only minor drawback is the direction by Wes Ball. To be clear, Ball has delivered his best and most effective work of his career, proving once and for all that he is a filmmaker capable of vision. However, it’s clear that he is still building up to the artistic skill level of the franchise’s previous helmer, Matt Reeves. Granted, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is supposedly the first in a new trilogy, so there’s every chance for Ball to become a master with the sequel.

Kevin Durand as Proximus.

Ultimately, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes may very well be the most pleasantly surprising film of the year. This is because it has proven there’s still life left in this series, even after it was presumed to have hit its absolute height with War for the Planet of the Apes. While this latest adventure isn’t a superior film, it does provide hope that we have plenty more stellar offerings on the way.

7/10

Best way to watch it: Not in a marathon with the previous trilogy. This film works because we had a 7 year break from The Planet of the Apes.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Poster.
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Robert Fantozzi

Passionate filmmaker. Proud Italian-South African. Total Nerd.

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