New character-driven ‘Apes’ film surprises jaded reviewer

Peter Macon, Owen Teague, and Freya Allan in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Studios)

Did the world need another Planet of the Apes movie?

To me, the answer is absolutely not.

Honestly, I’d have been good after the first film series played out in the mid 1970s. Though I’ve enjoyed every Apes movie — even the Tim Burton and Marky Mark misstep of the 1990s — to a certain degree, they really could have stopped with the 1968 original, and I would have been more than fine.

But with that said, if you are going to make sequels and prequels of a near 60-year-old intellectual property in perpetuity, then at least make the movies good.

I’m happy to report director Wes Ball (The Maze Runner films) did just that with the latest entry into Planet of the Apes lore, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.”

This character-focused sci-fi flick, penned by Josh Friedman, was surprisingly good, offering us compelling anthropomorphic apes, orangutans, and chimps as main characters with only a few humans playing vital roles. While those characters weren’t as well-crafted as the apes, they fulfilled their purpose in the plot.

The film picks up many generations after the death of Caesar, the first talking ape and key figure in the previous three films. He passed away after leading his ape followers to the proverbial “Promised Land.”

This film centers on how the precepts and policies of the social structure he and his fellow apes established are remembered, understood, misunderstood, misappropriated, and misused. “Evil” ape known as Proximus Caesar is the problem in the film. The chimp is expertly realized by Kevin Durand.

Durand, a sturdy character actor for years, is having a pretty good run in cinemas this spring with his memorable turn as one of the vampire kidnappers in “Abigail” and his role as Proximus.

However our main character is the soulful Noa (Owen Teague), a young chimpanzee, who befriends a beautiful and well-kept human Mae/Nova (Freya Allan), who is more intelligent than the garden variety homo sapiens in this fantasy world.

If you remember in the previous series of films, a toxin was released that simultaneously amped up the brain power of apes while sapping that of most humans.

Proximus’ war-like tendencies not only threaten what’s left of mankind, but the tranquillity of ape tribes/societies like the one Noa belongs.

Proximus is basically using a bastardized version of Caesar’s teachings, as interpreted to him by the race-traitor human Trevathan (William H. Macy) to enslave apes to do his bidding. Trevathan isn’t a mastermind of any sort. He’s just going along to get along.

Of course, this places him in direct conflict with Noa’s tribe as well as the plans of Mae/Nova, which she does not reveal to Noa or his orangutan advisor and friend Raka (Peter Macon) right away.

All of this may read a bit convoluted, but the film clearly lays all this down with terrific character work from Friedman’s script and the motion-capture performances by the actors, aided and abetted by some of the finest and most consistent CGI effects laid on top of them.

The technical aspects of the film intermingle almost seamlessly with the performances to create one of the most believable sci-fi/fantasy worlds in recent cinematic history.

The excellence of the craftsmanship by director Ball, cinematographer Gyula Pados, and the rest of the crew allow the viewer to sink into the film and enjoy Friedman’s character-driven story.

The movie somewhat loses its way in the third act with some expedient choices, but no more so than most sci-fi adventures of this magnitude.

And again, the characters and their motivations are so well demonstrated that I didn’t really care. I just enjoyed the spectacle.

I went to this movie somewhat grudgingly, referring to it as “Not Another Apes Movie,” but that was clearly an unfair judgement.

While the movie could have stood to have been a bit shorter and some story-telling seams begin to stretch toward the action-packed climax, the movie is compelling, exciting, and enjoyable if you go for sci-fi fantasy.

I would think most fans of the Apes movies would be quite pleased with this one.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 25 min.
Grade: B

New in Local Theaters – May 10, 2024

  • Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13) 2 hr. 25 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight
  • Not Another Church Movie (R) 1 hr. 31 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle
  • Unsung Hero (PG) 1 hr. 52 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne

Classic Corner – The Big Sleep

Director Howard Hawks’ 1946 film noir “The Big Sleep” boasts a plot so convoluted yet entrancing that it’s no surprise author William Faulkner worked on it along with screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman.

Clarity isn’t important, though, with a film that exudes such mood, tone and attitude. The movie, based on Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel, became the template for scores of hard-boiled detectives who would take their cue from Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal on on-nonsense gumshoe Phillip Marlowe.

If Bogart’s performance is iconic for film private detectives, then Lauren Bacall is equally as memorable as the mysterious Vivian Rutledge, whom Marlowe can’t quite figure out.

While you could drive yourself crazy trying to follow the plot, Bogart and Bacall are a treat to watch, and their chemistry is absolutely palpable.

Though Bogart had been featured in films since the early 1930s, he only fully came into his own as an A-list star in the early 1940s. Here, Bogart is in his prime, and arguably no co-star brought out the best in Bogie like Bacall.

Likewise, Bacall went on to a long and distinguished career, but I’m not sure she was ever better than in her early films, bouncing lines off her soon-to-be husband Bogart as she did in this film, as well as “To Have or Have Not,” and “Key Largo.”

The movie can be streamed on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, and YouTube.