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Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Photograph: 20th Century Studios

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

No Andy Serkis, no problems for Wes Ball’s thoughtful ape adventure

The ape-ocalypse continues, in the latest entry to a 56-year-old sci-fi franchise. But it’s a saga which refuses to act its age, thanks to its ever-improving VFX, persistent thematic relevance, and bold narrative leaps. This ninth instalment the series delivers on all three counts, despite losing both its leading ape (Andy Serkis) and most recent director (Matt Reeves).

Rather than continuing directly from 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes and following dead chimp leader Caesar’s (Serkis) offspring, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes underlines its behind-the-scenes change-up by rejoining the story 300 years later with an entirely new set of characters, who must all wrestle with Caesar’s legacy.

Now under the directorial supervision of The Maze Runners Wes Ball, Earth (or more specifically, California) is loosely dominated by disparate tribes of apes, with a mute humanity reduced to the status of pesky vermin. We’re introduced to this new world via about-to-come-of-age chimp Noa (Owen Teague), who lives among mankind’s visually pleasing foliage-wreathed ruins as a member of the Eagle Clan – so called because they’ve managed to domesticate golden eagles.

If that feels a tad fantastical for a previously sombre sci-fi, it at least speaks to Ball’s fresh, brightly lit epic-quest tone, which sends the impressionable Noa on a perilous journey to rescue his folks from a rival tribe who have superior, electric-powered weaponry. However, his adventure is complicated by a human (The Witcher’s Freya Allen), who is more than meets the eye in ways that don’t take much figuring out.

You don’t need to be an Apes nerd to find the idea of another entry appealing

This ‘hero’s journey’ structure initially feels straightforward for a franchise defined by its devastating twists, but it does deliver a few impressive action set-pieces while also maintaining the previous films’ ruminative pokes at human nature.

It also benefits from some engaging supporting characters. Sage orang-utan Raka (Peter Macon) brings a valuable sense of humour as he teaches Noa the truth about Caesar, and Kevin Durand clearly relishes every moment of his slim screen time as the theatrically intimidating bonobo tyrant Proximus, who identifies himself as Caesar’s proper inheritor in his relentless pursuit of ‘instant e-vo-lution’. Allen’s character, meanwhile, grounds the plot in unexpected ways, bringing some disquieting moral ambivalence to the mix.

More predictable is the climactic hint towards further instalments. And thanks mainly to the sheer brassiness of Ball’s new world-building, you don’t need to be an Easter-egg-spotting Apes nerd to find the idea of another entry or two appealing.

In cinemas worldwide May 9

Dan Jolin
Written by
Dan Jolin

Cast and crew

  • Director:Wes Ball
  • Screenwriter:Josh Friedman, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
  • Cast:
    • Freya Allan
    • Kevin Durand
    • William H. Macy
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