Review: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes


When the reboot of the Planet of the Ape movies began in 2011, I, like many people, was pretty captivated by what I saw. Over the course of a trilogy, we were able to witness a believable and exciting prequel to the original Charlton Heston classic that also served as a commendable special effects showcase. Each movie felt like the logical next step in showing how the apes came to rule the Earth, and now Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes has a lot to live up to.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a new chapter in this prequel era in a lot of different ways. First, this is meant to be the start of a new trilogy of Ape films. Then there’s a major time skip, setting it hundreds of years after the three 2010s movies, as well as trying to revive interest in the franchise after a seven-year gap between films thanks to the acquisition of 20th Century Fox and the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to that massive time skip, there’s a whole new cast of characters as we inch ever closer to the original film. But while each movie has felt like an evolution in the ongoing narrative and saga, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes feels like a significant step back, both in terms of narrative and entertainment.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes | Official Trailer

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Wes Ball
Release Date: May 10, 2024 (Theatrical)
Rating: PG-13

Three hundred years after the death of Caesar, apes have begun to build small communities. One of these communities is the Eagle Clan, where a young chimpanzee named Noa (Owen Teague) is preparing for a coming-of-age ceremony. While away from his clan, they come under attack by a group of apes that serve Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand). After capturing the Eagle Clan for some unknown reason, Noa goes on a quest to save them from Proximus while also teaming up with a human he names Nova (Freya Allen). By this point, humans have lost all of their intelligence, but Noa eventually learns that Nova has maintained her intelligence. Noa joins him to stop Proximus from entering an abandoned government facility and gaining the weapons stored within.

I’ll give Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes this: I thought the connections between this film and the prequel trilogy were fascinating. While there are no characters that directly appear between these films, the core message that Caesar built up in the earlier films is still present, which is that apes are stronger together. Throughout the movie, we see how that message has been twisted and perverted over the centuries with only small groups still taking to heart Caesar’s message while larger, more militaristic groups like Proximus’s use his message as a justification for expansion and violence.

It’s interesting to use this thematic connection to try and tie the events of this new trilogy to the old one. It’s also a risky one since unless you’re familiar with what happened in the previous trilogy, some things may fly over the audience’s head. If you don’t know who Caesar is or the relationship they had with humans, the opening text crawl will do a lot of heavy lifting for newcomers. The film is weirdly both newcomer-friendly and newcomer-resistant. For the first half hour, while the new conflict was establishing itself, I kept wondering if I was missing something. Eventually, you realize that it doesn’t matter, but the opening of the film is easily its weakest.

Review: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Copyright: 20th Century Studios

That’s mostly due to how long it takes for the conflict to establish itself. For a movie that’s just over two hours, the first hour feels abysmally slow as we see Noa almost aimlessly wander into areas and find himself engaging in Proximus’ forces. The dialogue doesn’t do much to help since, given the limited intelligence and speech capabilities of the apes, dialogue is often sparse and exists to get the main point of the scene across as efficiently and bluntly as possible. Thematically, it makes sense given the vernacular of the apes, but it does little to let me become invested in the characters. When a character dies close to the halfway point, it’s meant to be this devastating moment, but it falls flat because of how little we actually become invested in the cast. Noa simply isn’t as interesting as Caesar and his gang of apes nor as interesting as the humans of past films.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes just plods along to the point where I nearly fell asleep in the opening hour of the film. When you combine the limited dialogue, the languid pace, and the ambient score, it makes an experience that drags to an unbelievable degree. I know it’s been years since I’ve seen any other Planet of the Apes movie, but I remember them being a lot more bombastic and dynamic than what’s here. This film feels more contemplative and interested in exploring the world the apes have created, but once you get over the reveal that human cities have been taken over by nature and the tribalism of the communities the apes have established, the beauty of this world becomes tedious.

When Noa reaches Proximus’ kingdom, the film finally starts to feel like it has a point. The goal becomes a lot clearer and we see the evil that Proximus has created within his kingdom. He seeks power and will twist Caesar’s words to serve himself, making him a decent antagonist. Interesting character dynamics also begin to present themselves, like Nova’s motivations for joining Noa on his quest leading to an uneasy ending where they’re clearly setting up a new status quo that doesn’t result in a clean finish.

Review: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Copyright: 20th Century Studios

The second half of the film isn’t perfect mind you. Once I saw how the apes were marveling over a gun, it made me think back to War for the Planet of the Apes and how some of the key imagery of that film was the apes holding guns and using them against the humans. The action setpieces all seem like a step back for a franchise that was constantly building and growing. There’s no real setpiece to Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, no moment to captivate the audience’s attention. Again, it makes logical sense given the context of the film and the series, but it also is at odds with how the previous films were gradually developing and evolving.

There are minor snippets, too, that just felt unnecessary. William H. Macy pops up a couple of times in the second half of the film and doesn’t serve any purpose other than to act as a foil to Nova. Even then, he’s barely around for that to develop into anything meaningful. There’s a blink-and-you-‘ll-miss-it moment where one of Noa’s companions has a moment of doubt, but it’s immediately resolved in the next scene. Moments like these make me feel as if Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes could have used a second draft to really iron out the pacing issues as well as the unnecessary moments that don’t enhance the plot of the movie’s themes.

The one thing that I will give the film unmitigated praise for is its special effects. These movies have always served as a nice barometer for the state of CG and you would think that after seven years the effects of these films wouldn’t be as impressive, yet they still are. The apes continue to be very expressive, most notably Proximus and his wide array of emotions, and they never feel out of place in the world. These characters appear as if they’re believably interacting in the world, with the exception of the climax, which does come across at times like a big CG fest with little grounding.

Review: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Copyright: 20th Century Studios

I don’t want to say I had particularly high hopes for Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes given the length between films, but I had faith that it could at least continue the upward trajectory of the series. Instead, this feels like a regression. The first half of the movie feels shaky as if it’s unaware of what to do now that it had its massive time skip, and takes an hour to find its footing. Once there are more characters to interact with and they’re given the chance to have longer and more meaningful conversations, then the film begins to come alive, but it can’t escape the shadow of its predecessors.

Caesar’s shadow hangs over Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes in a lot of ways, but while it may create an interesting scenario within the context of the narrative, in the larger scope of the series, it just makes me want to watch those earlier movies instead of this new one.




Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes has interesting ideas on how to continue the franchise but meanders for half of the film and ultimately doesn't really know what to do without Caesar

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.