Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes review: "Offers spectacle and thrills, but lacks the smarts and ambition of its predecessors"

Kevin Durand as Proximus Caesar in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes
(Image: © 20th Century Studios)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Entertaining enough but inessential, Kingdom offers spectacle and thrills but lacks the ambition, smarts, and gravity of its immediate predecessors.

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Is there life after Caesar? That’s the big question for Wes Ball’s (The Maze Runner) franchise restart. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is tasked not only with following one of the strongest fantasy trilogies of recent times, but with moving forward without Andy Serkis’ pivotal simian protagonist. 

Beginning with a sombre coda to 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes, KotPotA jumps forward “many generations later” to an ape-ruled planet that has largely forgotten Caesar’s benevolent teachings. As much as young chimpanzee Noa (Owen Teague) would like to live out his life in eagle-rearing ignorance, however, he can’t prevent the outside world paying him a visit that ends with his village in fiery ruins and most of his clan incarcerated.

The apes have come on in leaps and bounds since 2011’s Rise of…, not just in their guile and intelligence but also in the CGI mo-cap used to bring them to life. On the storytelling front, though, Kingdom seems a bit of a regression. Noa’s quest to locate and liberate his imprisoned tribe takes on the generic hue of a Joseph Campbell-ian rite of passage. 

Until, that is, Kevin Durand’s Proximus Caesar hoves into view, at which point KotPotA adopts the unmistakable vibe of an old-school Bond movie. It’s hard not to think of Dr. No, for example, in the scene where he spells out his evil plans to Noa over dinner while his hench-ape looks on like a hairy Oddjob. There’s even a secret lair to be infiltrated in Kingdom’s epic second half, not to mention a right-hand woman in the form of Freya Allan’s Mae, who’s a match for any monkey. 

Alas, try as he might, Teague just isn’t as compelling as Serkis in a sequel that exhibits little of the Rise/Dawn/War triptych’s grand thematic sweep. And while the film’s striking vision of a California overtaken by foliage never fails to dazzle, particularly in scenes where Noa and orangutan Raka (Peter Macon) explore what was once LAX, there’s not enough that’s fresh here to make you salivate for the future instalments its ending invites.

“Can ape and human live together?” ponders Noa at one stage, voicing what has been this sci-fi saga’s core dilemma since its 1968 inception. At this point in its evolution, however, its current custodians appear in no great hurry to resolve it.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes releases in UK cinemas on May 9 and in US theaters on May 10. 

Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.