Comfortable and Furious

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Been There, Done That…

When everyone finished watching Avengers: Endgame, the satisfaction felt by audiences was so palpable you could taste it. Endgame was the conclusion of an exceptionally well-constructed and well-told story. But, Disney’s Marvel Studios said “WAIT!! There’s more!” and audiences said, “I mean…sure, I guess?” Suffice it to say that audiences have not exactly celebrated the post-Endgame movies as particularly compelling stories.  

When everyone finished watching War for the Planet of the Apes, the satisfaction felt by audiences was palpable…within a normal range. Let’s not get crazy. It was the conclusion of a very good trilogy, not the end of a ten-year, twenty-two-movie epic saga. But still, we may or may not have shed a few tears at ape Caesar’s passing. But, Disney’s 20th Century Studios said “WAIT!! There’s more!” and audiences said, “we’ll probably have apes fatigue soon.”

(SPOILERS to talk about the “new” story.)

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes picks up generations later (the movie’s wording, not mine) after Caesar’s death. Our new protagonist ape is Noa (Owen Teague), who is part of a clan of apes that tames eagles. That’s not a joke. The apes steal eagle eggs from aeries, hold a special bonding ceremony (that we never see), and train the eagles to fish for them. Noa is also the son of the clan’s leader/eagle master and the eagles hate Noa. This might seem very random and oddly specific, but how else are they going to set up eagles as a deus ex machina? If that doesn’t convince you of the point of the eagles in this movie, the eagle that hates Noa the most (yes, it’s a specific eagle) follows Noa throughout the entire movie for no reason. Still not joking.

The eagle isn’t the only creature following Noa. A human named Mae (Freya Allan) spends the first act of the film crossing paths with Noa. After a band of apes burns down Noa’s village, captures the villagers, and leaves Noa for dead, Mae eventually joins Noa, along with an orangutan named Raka (Peter Macon), on Noa’s quest to avenge his father’s death and free the villagers. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that is almost identical to the plot of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Eventually, we learn that a tribe led by an ape called Proxima (Kevin Durand) has been invading ape villages and enslaving the inhabitants in service of an attempt to open and plunder a sealed human military bunker. Proxima holds captive an old human named Trevathan (William H. Macy) who has told Proxima about what is likely inside the bunker. Proxima wants the stored weapons and knowledge in order to be…uh…more powerful, I guess? If that sounds familiar, it’s because that is the plot of so many other mediocre action movies it’s now cliche to point out how cliche it is.

A lot of people at my screening really liked Kingdom, but I don’t understand why. Other than the continued dazzlingly real CGI effects of the apes, Kingdom does everything worse than the trilogy it follows. The trilogy meticulously crafted and developed its characters in order to emotionally connect the audience. The trilogy laid out a detailed story tracing the fall of mankind and Caesar’s attempts to maintain a fragile peace between the surviving humans and rising apes. It was done so well that those tears we shed for Caesar at the end of War for the Planet of the Apes were very well-earned.

More than that, the trilogy ended its story, so Kingdom doesn’t have any untied plotlines to follow. Given how far in the future Kingdom takes place, I was kind of expecting it to revisit some ideas from the original 1968 film, particularly the idea of apes discovering speaking, intelligent humans, and tying it back to the modern trilogy. Maybe conflict rises up between apes who think human intelligence was a myth and apes who continue to teach history and Mae is caught in the middle. Noa could be the ape who tries to get her to safety, taking her to a forbidden zone outside ape territory. Noa and Mae (and a couple other quest mates) develop a relationship similar to Caesar and Dr. Rodman. Maybe there is a last-minute reveal in the zone that lets the audience know the new story is just beginning. Sounds solid, right?

Instead, Kingdom is full of shallow writing and practically excludes character development altogether. Noa is a just a generic hero with generic motivations. His village friends are barely names that don’t even get to journey with him. Proxima’s motivations have no context or reason since the ape clans don’t appear to be fighting with each other. The only time the movie comes close to being intriguing is when Raka and Noa discover Mae can speak. Unfortunately, the moment lasts only for that long – a moment. The chance for revelation is squandered by the movie insisting that we care about Noa’s abducted tribe despite not doing any work to make us care. But they trained eagles, so…we have to care?

I’m not saying Kingdom is a bad movie. It’s a competently produced movie with solid performances, a very generic plot, and even more generic characters. But it’s just like all of the post-Endgame Marvel movies – perfectly adequate without providing a reason for the audience to reinvest.

Rating: Ask for seven dollars back because we’re not fatigued just yet.



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