Movie review: ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ a reflective journey

Long ago, a man-made virus granted apes superior intelligence and the ability to speak, while taking those same abilities from humans. Dynamics shifted over time and through war, with apes taking over the planet as the dominant species, and humans living like fearful animals in the shadows.

The last time we were in this world was in the 2017 “War for the Planet of the Apes,” in which Andy Serkis’ Caesar died a hero to the apes.

Director Wes Ball, known for the “The Maze Runner” trilogy, brings us back to the chaos in a story that picks up “many generations” after Caesar’s death, where a young ape named Noa (Owen Teague) seeks retribution on the band of vicious apes who burned his village to the ground, killing or kidnapping everyone he knows.

Following their trail, he realizes he is also being followed — by a human. The big surprise here is that the human is not what she seems. Her name, he learns, is Mae (Freya Allan), and he is shocked to learn she never lost her ability to speak. More importantly, there are others like her.

I enjoyed the world building along their journey — scenery like the vacated cascades of man-made city highrises from centuries ago, overgrown with lush greenery over time, to the arguably devolved, primal towers of sticks that Noa called home. But I felt myself dozing more than once from the pace in the first half.

Things picked up in the second half, when Noa and Mae were captured and taken to the ape kingdom being built by the ruthless Proximus (Kevin Durand).

Within that coastal kingdom, the suspense built steadily through tremendous writing and acting that wasn’t limited by the movie magic that turns actors into apes. There were no dead, soulless eyes that often accompany these sorts of nonhuman depictions in films; rather, living, feeling subtleties in every facial expression.

It was in this second act that Noa and Mae had a conversation about the world they inhabited, posing the question: should the world belong to the humans or the apes? And when they couldn’t come to an agreement, it hit me just how much this debate mirrors conflicts in our world throughout history.

Even today, I thought about the dialogue surrounding Israel-Palestine and the arguments from each side. And how, so long as there is no agreement, the war will rage on.

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” feels more reflective than you’d expect it to. Even with talking apes waddling around the screen, it offers a realistic story, in a fantastical world.


Scott McDaniel is an assistant professor of journalism at Franklin College. He lives in Bargersville with his wife and three kids.