Spoiler-filled thoughts on Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes

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Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes may not feature Andy Serkis’ Caesar, but his presence is very much felt. Some spoilery thoughts on Wes Ball’s ape sequel. 

MAJOR SPOILERS for Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes

Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes (wow, that’s a long title to type out. From now on, we’ll be referring to it as Kingdom) is making a splash at the global box office after premiering in cinemas last Friday. Wes Ball’s fourth instalment in the new era of Planet Of The Apes films made an impressive $129m at the box office during its first weekend, signalling that the franchise had no trouble making a comeback. 

The film is set hundreds of years after the reign of Caesar in the previous trilogy, which began in 2011 with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. Kingdom follows Noa, a young ape whose village is destroyed by the henchmen of Proximus Caesar, a villainous bonobo who has adopted and twisted Caesar’s ancient teachings.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch Kingdom yet, you might want to bookmark this article and return to it once you have. We’ll be discussing, dissecting and speculating about some pretty major spoilers. You’ve been warned. 

kingdom of the planet of the apes raka noa
Noa and Raka, played by Owen Teague and Peter Macon, in Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes. Credit: 20th Century Studios

Kingdom actually starts with the funeral of Caesar. Memorably, Caesar succumbed to his wounds after getting his clan to safety at the end of 2017’s War For The Planet Of The Apes. Here, we see the apes cover Caesar in flowers and ceremoniously burn his body on a pyre. After the short scene, the action jumps “many generations” into the future. 

Caesar might not be a physical presence in Kingdom, but the film strongly revolves around his legacy. Arguably, Ball doesn’t always pull off the smaller nuances of the story, but there are some fascinating, ambitious questions asked here. 

Read more: Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes review | A long road forward

As Noa sets on a journey to find his family, kidnapped by Proximus, he comes across an older orangutan, Raka. Performed by Peter Macon, Raka still practises Caesar’s teachings, even wearing a necklace with Caesar’s symbol on it. Noa, however, has never even heard of Caesar. He does uphold the old laws of this clan, though. As Noa and his friends, Anaya and Soona, are looking for eagle eggs to use in a coming of age ceremony, Noa warns them to always leave one egg in the nest. This, apparently, is the law.

Noa is a natural successor to Caesar as a protagonist for these films; he’s kind, a natural leader and has a strong moral compass. Both Noa and Caesar make for compelling leads, with specific, if different themes for their respective films. Raka tells Noa that Caesar ruled with “decency, morality, strength, compassion”. Noa shares a lot of these traits with Caesar, but he’s been taught to despite humans – or Echoes, as he calls them. 

One of these Echoes follows Noa and Raka. Played by Freya Allan, the human, whom we’ll later learn is called Mae, is a skittish, skinny little thing that is desperate for food and warmth. Noa is understandably cautious, but Raka encourages the young ape to treat her with kindness, offering her an apple and a blanket. 

Mae is crucial to the film’s plot and themes. Proximus’ men are after her, believing she has some valuable information for the new ruler. The final trailer slightly ruined this reveal, but Mae is able to speak. In War, humans were beginning to lose their notorious chattiness due to a mutated virus and in Kingdom, almost all humans have regressed to a feral state. We’re inching closer to the reality of the original Planet Of The Apes (1968) (and the Tim Burton reimagining, but we’re all trying to erase that from our memory) where humans are treated like animals as Proximus’ men chase Mae and her fellow homo-sapiens on horseback. 

Raka unfortunately doesn’t survive this ordeal. He saves Mae from drowning but ends up in the raging river himself as Noa hangs on to him for, literally, dear life. “Together strong,” Raka reminds Noa, before he is swept away, presumably to his death. Not just the apes this time – Caesar taught them to team up with humans too…

When we finally meet Proximus himself, he’s the complete opposite of Caesar. If Caesar was quietly powerful and contemplative, Proximus is like a charismatic cult leader, who is able to manipulate and lure apes on his side. He’s everything Caesar could have been and what Dawn's Koba nearly became, like a walking, talking worse case scenario. 

Read more: Podcast | In conversation with director Wes Ball – Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes and more

“What a wonderful day!” he bellows as he steps out to the deafening cheers of other apes, who are quite happy to sacrifice themselves for Proximus. They’re trying to open a huge vault, once belonging to humans. Proximus is convinced it contains valuable human technology that he can use. 

“Apes together strong!” he shouts at the apes, who repeat his words with almost religious fervour. The words have such a different meaning here than they did when Raka said them to Noa. Proximus has turned Caesar’s legacy to his own gain, to turn apes against each other and to kill themselves for him. He has also adopted Caesar’s name as part of his own, to enforce the idea that he is almost a Messiah of sorts. He even claims “I am Caesar now.”

kingdom of the planet of the apes proximmus caesar
Proximus Caesar, played by Kevin Durand in Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes. Credit: 20th Century Studios

It’s a shame the film doesn’t delve into the themes of religion and Caesar’s legacy more. Proximus is only introduced to us at the 90 minute mark, but it feels like there was more to explore here. Proximus feels terrifyingly true to life in all the ways he’s able to make other apes do his bidding – to the point that they’re killing each other. 

One of Caesar’s key teachings was that no ape should ever kill another ape. Apes were stronger when united, not fighting each other. So when Proximus repeats Caesar’s words, they go completely against what they were originally used for. 

Proximus’ hunt for human technology is also an interesting theme. In Proximus’ kingdom, Mae is taken to Trevathan (played by William H. Macy), another human with the ability to speak and who has joined Proximus’ side. Throughout the film, he keeps telling Mae to forget how things used to be and focus on helping herself in the here and now. 

There’s almost a conflict between the past and the future in Kingdom. On one hand, Mae is instructed to let go of the past and human ways, but Trevathan has been teaching Proximus of the human world and their ways. Proximus seems surprised and awe-struck that humans used to be able to fly and talk to each other across oceans. 

In fact, the word Proximus uses to describe what he seeks inside the vault is ‘evolution’. While he certainly seeks more power and to use the technology to oppress even more apes, he is also seeking the next step in his species’ evolutionary chain. For Proximus, evolution and power are interchangeable. 

kingdom of the planet of the apes mae
Mae, played by Freya Allen, in Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes. Credit: 20th Century Studios

The film ends with Mae flooding the now-open vault, killing hundreds of apes and escaping with a SATCOM key, which she delivers to a small group of humans. It’s the final piece of the puzzle which allows them to activate the satellites and contact other survivors, setting the scene for future sequels. Kingdom is supposedly the first part of a brand new trilogy. 

Overall, the vision is to have three trilogies to make up the current, modern Planet Of The Apes franchise; the so-called Caesar trilogy, Noa’s trilogy and a third trilogy, bringing the total to nine films. Kingdom doesn’t have a sequel officially in the works, but it seems only logical to greenlight it after the film racked up the cash at the global box office over the weekend. 

With course set for the next films, it looks like we’re heading towards another conflict between apes and humans. If we do get another whole trilogy, would it end where the original Planet Of The Apes starts? With apes completely the dominant species, using humans as pets or slaves?

Wherever the films head next, one thing has become clear. The new Planet Of The Apes films are some of the most thematically ambitious commercial blockbusters we have the privilege of watching, which is something not to be taken for granted. 

Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes is now in cinemas. 

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