A star rating of 3 out of 5.

There’s a sense of new beginnings to the fourth instalment of the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise. With a new director/writer team at the helm (The Maze Runner’s Wes Ball and Avatar: The Way of Water’s Josh Friedman), a leap forwards in time a few hundreds years from the previous film and a more family friendly fantasy adventure vibe, Kingdom is clearly the first part of a new volume rather than just the next chapter.


Not that it reveals exactly what this volume might involve until very late in the running time.

The first three films now form a self-contained trilogy, detailing how apes – under the leadership of a chimpanzee called Caesar – came to inherit the Earth after a human-engineered virus both increased ape intelligence and reduced human’s to a primitive, speechless state. Kingdom opens generations later, but, intriguingly, chooses not to reveal exactly what the new status quo is on the planet.

Instead, we’re introduced to the new world order through the eyes of an isolated tribe of chimpanzees who specialise in eagle husbandry. They have little knowledge of the world before the apes’ ascendance and their relationship to humans, or “echoes” as they call them – their elders either don’t know or have been withholding the truth.

It’s an Arcadian idyll until the tribe is discovered by a thuggish party of apes who burn the village down and enslave the villages they don’t kill. They’re from a clan ruled by the power-hungry Proximus Caesar, who has twisted the memory of Caesar into an ugly, new creed.

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Only Noa (Owen Teague), the son of the eagle-whispering clan’s chief, escapes capture as he’s left for dead. Waking up the day after the attack, he tracks the Proximus apes back to their kingdom, and makes some unlikely allies along the way: an orangutan called Raka (Peter Macon) who worships the “true” teachings of Caesar (which he interprets as peaceful co-existence between human and ape) and a young female echo (Freya Allan) who has secrets of her own.

While providing some decent thrills, spectacular action, engaging characters and an efficient, though ploddingly linear, plot, Kingdom is serviceably entertaining potboiler rather than a must-see cinematic experience.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes still showing an ape with a bird of prey on its arms
Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. 20th Century Studios

After the bleak, hard-hitting, character drama of the previous two Matt Reeves-directed Apes films, Kingdom is a less intense offering. Gone are the war movie allusions, replaced by fantasy tropes. The eagle-chimps coming across as Hobbit avatars, while the evil apes are not-so-distant cousins of orcs. Even Noa’s quest has a definite “Fellowship of the Ring” flavour, with our wide-eyed rustic hero learning about the dark truth of the wider world.

It doesn’t help that, despite advances in CG effects, the apes actually come across as more cartoony. This may have something to do with the fact they can all talk now, so that the film resembles the live action Jungle Book, with anthropomorphised animals, rather than apes that have learned to speak. Some goofy mugging from Proximus doesn’t help.

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William H Macy turns up as a duplicitous human at one point, and very watchable he is too, but you can’t help thinking his character is eminently cuttable. Even Raka is ejected from the plot after his expository usefulness is done.

Caesar’s legacy is also frustratingly under-explored. The clash of Raka’s and Proximus’s philosophies feels like it should be the beating heart of the movie, but instead just becomes part of the plot mechanics.

Curiously, the film saves its most intriguing revelations until the very end. Some last-minute world-building sets up further sequels that at least don’t look like they’ll merely be aping The Lord of the Rings.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is now showing in UK cinemas.


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