Review: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Score: B+

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Owen Teague, Kevin Durand, Freya Allen, William H. Macy

Running Time: 145 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

After a sharp, successful trilogy of reboots, it seemed there was nothing left to explore in the Planet of the Apes series. But director Wes Ball (The Maze Runner trilogy) and writer Josh Friedman (who has a strong resume of adapting movies for TV) have delivered a solid new story, one that proves there's still plenty of thrills and power in the conflict between man and beast.

Set hundreds of years after Caesar has died, apes rule the planet. Aside from a few scattered tribes of mute humans, it's only animals amongst the ruins of civilization. The main clan of apes commune with nature, and feel kinship with birds. The dangers of the natural world still exist, but their life is peaceful. But sightings of a woman (Freya Allen) and a brutal attack from a rival clan violently disrupt their lives.

Left for dead, Noa (Owen Teague) journeys to find his abducted family and friends, unsure of the dangers that lie ahead. This is all classic Hero's Journey stuff, but it's a credit to the creative team that you can't help but get caught up in the story. It's so filled with genuine emotion and moral quandaries and sweeping action that you forget these are just CGI apes.

The film's most fascinating character is easily Raka (Peter Macon), who teaches Noa about ape history and accompanies him for part of his sojourn. He is the last of the true believers in Caesar's teachings. His love and compassion stand in stark contrast to the evil king Proxima (Kevin Durand), who twists Caesar's teachings into hateful rhetoric. Using religion as a lure into fascism? Surely that could only happen in dystopian science fiction. As with Rise, the film's weakest link is its main human character. Allen (Netflix's The Witcher) certainly has captivating eyes, but she's a complete blank, and feels less like a human than her simian counterparts.

When Kingdom traverses the vast open spaces of America, it's incredibly compelling. But kept to the confined spaces of a prison in its last act, it loses a step. Thematically it's still provocative, especially in its exploration of wartime collaboration and prejudicial distrust of the "Other." Like the previous trilogy, this film does not have a lot of hope for humanity or apes who act like humans. Will that improve in a likely sequel? Probably not. But if it's as well-made as this one, I'll happily line up for it.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.