Written by Tom Augustine.

Perhaps the greatest pleasure of watching the modern Planet of the Apes series is indulging in the uncanny experience of watching the apes themselves, who – thanks to wonderfully exacting performances and astonishing motion capture work – find a sweet middleground between recognisable human emotion and something that sets them apart from humanity.  ‘More human than human’, as the saying goes. Chief credit for this should probably go to Andy Serkis, motion capture pioneer, who carried his learnings from playing Gollum and (especially) Kong into his work as Caesar, the lionhearted hero of the trilogy made up of Rise, Dawn and War of/for the Planet of the Apes (these titles get unwieldy very quickly). The latest instalment, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, is evidently intended to break new ground in the franchise, jumping forward ‘many generations’ to tell a new story that explores the legacy of Caesar from the perspective of new characters, many of whom are completely unfamiliar with Caesar at the beginning of this tale. It’s an interesting, even slightly risky move – the last film in the franchise was some seven years ago, and felt like a pretty definitive end. The miraculous technology that allowed for these films to take off is pretty well-established at this point, and the low-energy trailers didn’t necessarily set the world ablaze. A lack of stars means the series has to lean on said technology and the affection for those remarkably solid earlier films. That’s perhaps the greatest card the Apes series has to play – more than almost any other series, each Apes film of the modern era has a base level of real quality. The world of Apes is just so fascinating, and the artistic vision behind each film – coupling motion capture with real sets, practical effects and strong storytelling – sets the series apart from other long-running franchises of note.


With talented series director Matt Reeves moving on from Apes to helm po-faced, shrug-worthy Batman films, Kingdom lands in the hands of Wes Ball, who helmed the solid YA-craze era Maze Runner films. Ball perhaps lacks some of Reeves’ formal rigour, but proves to be a strong vision to get behind with Kingdom, a blessedly likeable update of the series. Picking up three-hundred years after War for the Planet of the Apes, apes have become the dominant species on earth, while humans have reverted to feral, wild creatures almost wiped out of existence. A peaceful clan of apes known as the Eagle Clan (because of their relationship with eagles that they train as hunters) is attacked by a marauding force under the control of King Proximus Caesar, an ape who has perverted Caesar’s teachings to enforce his own rule. Proximus is on the hunt for a human girl named Mae, who has retained her human intelligence and may hold the key to humankind’s survival. 

Taking over from The Batman’s Matt Reeves, The Maze Runner director Wes Ball has crafted a thrilling, muscular episode of the sprawling Apes series, another strong entry in a franchise well-known for its consistent strike rate. The film’s astonishing technical mastery, coupled with a breathless, high-stakes narrative, sets it apart from other, gaudier modern blockbusters.

Part of what has always made the Apes movies stand apart is their willingness to layer in complex thematic and ideological allusions, and Kingdom falls into place here by engaging in the same conscious paralleling with our own society. Many have regarded the Apes films as a kind of racial allegory from the first Planet of the Apes in 1968, which reflected the upheaval of the Civil Rights movement and the racist depiction of black people in cinema of decades previous. There are elements of that in Kingdom, true, but what is most intriguing about the film is the way in which it interrogates religious teachings and notions of tribalism, and how both can be manipulated to the detriment of many. Living in the world in 2024 one sees the impact of this everywhere. It’s a world in which one can warp the teachings of a man who lived thousands of years ago to ban books, or deny others the right to love who they choose, or bomb another country. It’s a world in which us-versus-them is not just a credo, it’s a way of life. In the centuries-later world of Kingdom, Caesar is no longer a Che Guevara-type revolutionary but a Jesus-like figure, and the film reverberates around his legacy, taking on a legitimately biblical resonance. As young Eagle Clan survivor Noa delves into a world beyond his village, he is met with two ideological figures, the first being the orangutan Raka, a wise old ape still dedicated to the true teachings of Caesar – “apes together strong” and “ape shall not kill ape”. The other is Proximus, a warlord intent on unlocking the destructive technology of humans to gain total control. Proximus finds a range of real-world parallels in authoritarians like Trump and his cronies, who use the words of great leaders to build a fanaticism that revolves around them. All the while, the alliance between Noa and Mae remains uneasy, a racial distrust that commendably is not easily swept away by the film’s conclusion. 


If that all sounds pretty heavy, the fantastic news is that Kingdom is a tightly executed and thrilling adventure, one that ratchets up the intensity early on and refuses to dissipate until the film’s tantalising final images. The cast is uniformly excellent, particularly the three central ape performers. Owen Teague, a young and incredibly talented actor, is a worthy Caesar descendant as Noa, portraying a youthfulness and stoicism that’s incredibly magnetic, and manages not to be eclipsed by the flashier, equally remarkable performances of his two teachers. As Proximus, the great character actor Kevin Durand, generally known for playing action heavies, is terrifying and unpredictable. It is Peter Macon, though, the largely unknown actor who portrays the orangutan Maka, who nearly steals the show out from his chimpanzee co-stars. A mix of Gandalf and Rafiki, Maka is wise, funny and aloof, and Macon renders his every gesture and facial tic with uncanny grace and precision. It’s a joy to behold. The action, meanwhile, is frequently stressful and brutal, particularly when Proximus’ chief enforcer, a frighteningly giant gorilla named Sylva, is involved. An early sequence set in the burning village of Eagle Clan is a white-knuckle experience, as the apes scramble to save each other and their community. 

This brings me back to that central pleasure of the Apes films – watching the apes in action. The world of Planet of the Apes is essentially limitless, as each new culture reveals another shade of the original struggles of Caesar made manifest. It’s the uncanniness of a world close to our own but with certain axes shifted, much as watching the apes reminds us of human behaviours, just slightly adjusted. If there was anything Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes had to do, it was to justify the continued existence of this franchise. By making clever narrative choices, chiefly the time jump, while staying true to the key qualities of the series – character and thematic complexity, cutting-edge technology and practical sets and effects – Kingdom becomes that rare thing, a franchise reboot that uplifts the films that came before it in the process. Though some elements disappoint – the human aspect of the story is frustratingly underdeveloped and chronologically twisty (how some humans managed for hundreds of years to avoid the degenerative man-made virus that turned the rest of humankind into feral creatures is left unexplored), while the ending of the film pulls its punches in committing to a darker, more truthful denouement of the ape-human relationship at the film’s core – there’s more than enough juice here to keep me coming back for future instalments. At least until the spaceship carrying the original Planet of the Apes’ humans finally crash-lands, bringing us full-circle.

Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes is in cinemas now. 


Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Movie title: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (Ball, 2024)

Movie description: Taking over from The Batman’s Matt Reeves, The Maze Runner director Wes Ball has crafted a thrilling, muscular episode of the sprawling Apes series, another strong entry in a franchise well-known for its consistent strike rate. The film’s astonishing technical mastery, coupled with a breathless, high-stakes narrative, sets it apart from other, gaudier modern blockbusters.

Date published: May 9, 2024

Country: United States

Author: Josh Friedman, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Director(s): Wes Ball

Actor(s): Freya Allan, Kevin Durand, Owen Teague

Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

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