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Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes ★★★



Released: 9th May 2024

Director: Wes Ball

Starring: Owen Teague, Freya Allen

Much like hearing an ape speak in full sentences, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a puzzling prospect. Helmed by Wes Ball, the fourth instalment in the franchise ambitiously explores the complexities of legacy and its transforming interpretations – and in doing so, justifies its existence. Yet frustratingly, ends up losing its footing in executing the crucial storytelling principles that made the previous films such a success.

Kingdom takes place “many generations” after the passing of Caesar (Andy Serkis), the first ape made smart after being injected with the experimental formula humans intended to be a cure for Alzheimer’s. The leader of the ape revolution, Caesar’s vision of liberation has come to pass. Apes are now Earth’s dominant species, with humans regressing to a primitive state and existing in the shadows.

In a tight-knit settlement, the Eagle Clan live peacefully – until an attack by a rival tribe kills their leader and captures the survivors. Left behind in the aftermath, the fallen leader’s young son Noa (Owen Teague) sets out on a rescue mission. Along the way, Noa befriends wise elder orangutang Raka (Peter Macon) and discovers Mae (Freya Allen), a lone human also being hunted by the fearsome tribe. All roads lead to the coastal stronghold of power-hungry ruler Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand). Contorting the foundational “apes together strong” doctrine, Proximus brutalises his prisoners in pursuit of the tools to take ape evolution to greater heights.

Kingdom is littered with ties back to the previous trilogy. Rather than appearing simply as easter eggs to please fans; these callbacks function as symbols, now part of a mythology that characters ascribe meaning to – resulting in actions both good and evil. It is a fresh, intriguing way to breathe life into a story that seemed fittingly concluded with 2017’s spectacular War of the Planet of the Apes. However, the characters aren’t written well enough to carry forward such lofty concepts. The cast, Teague in particular, do their best with what they’re given, but none are engaging enough to emotionally invest in, and some are bafflingly paper thin. This isn’t helped by the film’s pacing issues. At 145 minutes –the longest entry yet– Kingdom creaks under its runtime, something made worse with a third-act set piece that is aggressively dull and confusing.

Despite such missteps, the film makes good use of humour and delivers some solid action scenes. It’s impressive that in a cinematic landscape filled with cash-grab returns to IP, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes has taken an admirable swing at crafting a thought-provoking narrative – even if its message needs better construction. With an ending that dials back up the anticipation, if the franchise wants to go where it seems to be signposting, it needs to recreate Caesar’s emotional as well as ideological impact to return to full form.

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