Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes review | A long road forward

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Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes finds a way ahead for the franchise – but it sure takes its time working it out. Review here.

Wisely wary that Matt Reeves’ 2017 film War For The Planet Of The Apes rounded off a rebooted trilogy with some style, incoming director Wes Ball and his team decide pretty much from the off to give themselves some space when taking on one of cinema’s most iconic franchises.

Allied at best to the most recent Apes trilogy, Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes thus offers the barest of recaps of where we got up to, before shifting the action to ‘several generations later’.

A couple of hundred of years have therefore passed, which means that the lead ape of the last three films – Caesar – is now a legend, but not an on-screen character. Instead, what’s interesting is how the characters we meet now interpret and try to own Caesar’s legacy in a few different ways, and that’s one of the factors the film wrestles with.

It gives Kingdom the thin thread it needs to tie itself to what happened before, plus a sandbox to build something new. We’re thus very much in a world dominated by apes, albeit with some birds and horses dotted about as well. No badgers, as far as I could see.

The apes are fractured though, and through the eyes of Owen Teague’s Noa, we see that writ large in the first act of the film. The old idea of apes not fighting apes is long out of the window, and thanks to a lot of fire, a lot of angry animals and some brutal, visceral action, Noa is soon displaced and trying to piece his life back together.

It takes its time to get there, but Noa is soon on the road, and a very worn one it is. We’re spoiled, really, with how immersive and realistic-looking the environments of these films are. Visual effects technology is something, perhaps rightly, we take for granted. Yet there’s no denying the richness on the screen. Wes Ball’s camera frequently takes to the skies to demonstrate a future world build on familiar foundations. Crumbling buildings are decorated with foliage, the sea roars against a make-shift barrier, and there’s so much rain it’s as if the film could have been made in Manchester.

You’re certainly getting top of the range blockbuster level visuals and sound for your admission price. It’s just a shame that the core story doesn’t really spark in quite the same way.

On the plus side, there are some nice isolated moments, and a delightful few seconds set aside to explain the particulars of a gibbon.

Yet what we’re seeing is something of an inverse of what’s gone before. Here, the apes dominate the planet and the humans the endangered species. That role reversal, which happened gradually over the course of the preceding trilogy, has reached something of an endpoint here, but there’s not too much intent to explore it too far.

In fact, at one stage it brought to mind another long-running franchise that’s been back on the big screen this year. The equilibrium of Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes bubbles a little higher than that of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Yet Frozen Empire had one narrative strand that soars about those if Apes. We’re at the tenth Planet Of The Apes film here, and it’s hard to shake the feeling of a narrative pendulum beginning to swing back in the opposite direction, rather than chart much of a new course.

There are nice moments. An ape blurting out the word “shit” is far funnier than perhaps it should be, and I did scribble down that a Planet Of The Apes/Wicked Little Letters hybrid film is surely a missed open goal. Also, towards the end, the film finds its spark: a footing that grounds things a little better. Then there’s the crackle of electricity, an impactful threat that Wes Ball wields well.

I like too the exploration of legacy, and how different factions can interpret that. There are many historical parallels for this, and it’s an idea that frequently underpins what’s happening on screen.

Against that, there’s a long running time and a very, very plodding first half of the film. I love a long film, when it’s lengthy for a good reason. Here, it’s baggy. William H Macy turns up in what ostensibly feels like the Christopher Walken cameo role, bringing cinematic weight to a character who appears at a key point in the film. Yet Macy drinks some coffee, shakes his arms a bit, and the film moves on. I get why he’s there, I don’t get why he makes so little impression.

There’s courage here, though. Dialogue is sparse particularly in the earlier stages of the film, where you’ll find eggs more prevalent than a complete sentence. There’s a sense of threat in the staging of individual scenes. Plus, as ever, it’s hard to fault the performances, and the visual representation of that.

Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes is an entry in a series where a lot of pathfinding has been done, and it takes a considerable period of time to find a new way forward. There’s a lot of agitated apes, in darkness, lit by flames. There are images worth freeze-framing and printing out, not least a particular visual callback to the series’ past.

The complete film itself though? It’s not close to the top tier of the boxset. Better than Tim Burton’s 2001 reboot, but a distance behind the more recent trilogy, it leaves a road ahead for wherever film 11 chooses to go. But it could use getting a bit more of a crack on.

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