Friday, May 10, 2024

THE PLANET OF THE APES Gets A Solid Franchise Extender In KINGDOM

Opening today at a monkey-infested multiplex near us all:

(Dir. Wes Ball, 2024)

Since it’s been a minute since we’ve visited the PLANET OF THE APES (which we all know is really future earth) – the last film was 2017’s WAR OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – I had to refresh my memory with YouTube refresher videos as I couldn’t quite remember where they had left off. 


This is the fourth entry in the POTA reboot series that started in 2011, when James Franco was still a thing, and it begins with the funeral of Caesar, the lead chimpanzee from the first trilogy, and then we flash forward, as a caption tells us “several generations later” (no reason to be specific about a particular year), to a clan of apes who live in towers made out of branches and logs right outside of some (again not specified) ruins of a city.


Our new protagonist is Noa (affably voiced and motion captured by Owen Teague), a noble chimp who we first meet in a stunning action sequence at the top of a green, tree covered rotting building (a “hard climb” the apes call it) stealing an eagle’s egg and almost having a hard fall because of it. 


Back home, where Noa’s father, Koro (Neil Sandilands), leads as a master of falconry; the abrupt appearance of a human woman (a stoic Freya Allen) gets the egg broken in a scuffle, and Noa travels back into the city to get another where he comes upon an evil clan led by the wonderfully scary villain bonobo ape, Proximus Caesar, who has co-opted and misconstrued what the original smart monkey, Caesar was all  about. “For Caesar!” Kevin Durand’s Proximus declares as he kills Koro in a powerful fight scene as the village burns.


Resembling many action adventure movies (including the recent THE CREATOR and CIVIL WAR), the film becomes a road trip scenario to rescue Noa’s clan, in which our determined ape is joined by the woman (who finally speaks saying her name is Mae), and an elder, incredibly intelligent orangutan name Raka (Peter Macon) who teaches Noa about books and astrology (there’s a stirring scene set in an observatory where Noa sees something that startles him through the lens of a ginormous telescope that they don’t let us see).


Noa, Raka, and Mae find that Proximus has built a settlement with scores of ape prisoners around a human-built bunker in the cliffs on the seashore. Proximus, who uses his ape slaves to daily try to destroy the impenetrable door to the bunker, asks Noa what he sees when he looks at what he calls his “kingdom,” “stolen clans” is our down-but-not-out hairy hero’s reply.


Another human, Trevathan (the always trusty William H. Macy), as our antagonistopportunistic history teacher, tries to dissuade Mae’s plans to get to what’s in the bunker before Proximus, saying “it’s already their world!” but with Noa’s smarts, and unflappable motivation to save his clan, there’s no stopping the determined duo.


In a world cluttered with big action franchises, KINGDOM is a surprisingly solid series entry with a compelling narrative in which very little is a hard climb to tackle. Its gliding, and intensely detailed visuals, provided by cinematographer Gyula Pados, keep the eyes popping, with the characters given just the right amount of heft to keep us emotionally interested. There’s also some nicely placed humor of the human-bashing sort including Noa and Raka ridiculing Mae’s smell during some down-time.


Taking this in, and looking back at the three films (RISE, DAWN, and WAR) that proceeded it, I have to say that this is one of the stronger sci-fi series going these days. Since the original classic 1968 POTA, there has been four sequels in the ‘70s, a really weird (and bad) stand-alone Tim Burton version in 2001 (with an ending that makes absolutely no sense), and now this effective reboot series with four more films (there were also live action and animated TV series, but let’s stick to the big screen) so I really wasn’t expecting anything but another attempt to keep the series afloat here.


But when there’s a creative team (and a sharp screenwriter in Josh Frieman) bringing primo passion and power to such a project, a fresh direction for these old APES can actually happen. And it’ll most likely happen again and again (of course, until the series becomes unprofitable), but for now the bottom of this barrel of monkeys is very far from being scraped dry.

More later...

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