Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes: this Ape-ocalypto is an inspired addition to the saga

Set many generations after the life of prime ape Caesar, this continuation of the Planet of the Apes series is a paradoxical epic invested with humour and horror in equal measure.

13 May 2024

By Kim Newman

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)
Sight and Sound

An offhand detail in Matt Reeves’s War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) – the previous film in this ongoing franchise – was a graffito reading ‘Ape-ocalypse Now’. Wes Ball’s Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, set ‘many generations’ after the Rise-Dawn-War trilogy about the life of prime ape Caesar (Andy Serkis), doesn’t work ‘Ape-ocalypto’ into its art direction, but is modelled on Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto (2006).

Like the Mesoamerican protagonist of Apocalypto, hero Noa (CGI-enhanced Owen Teague) pursues his clan (and love interest) after a raiding party abduct them en masse and finds himself prisoner of a more sophisticated, more murderous society which is itself on the verge of catastrophe. It almost but doesn’t quite match Gibson’s coda – conquistadors arriving on the beach – with the rocket crash which began Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes (1968). The snake-swallowing-itself time loop paradox which underlies the series is again delayed until a future instalment, though we always know Taylor (Charlton Heston) is out there in space on a collision course for Ape Earth.

One of the pleasures of the 21st century revival of the saga is the respect paid to the original run of Apes films – key images and ideas are deployed in fresh contexts. There are snatches of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Planet of the Apes as we approach an Ape City art-directed to evoke the first film. All the more disappointing then, that Pierre Boulle, who wrote the novel from which all this springs, is again not credited.  

Given the 20th Century Fox-Disney merger and the collation of so much IP under one roof, it’s possible another property has been slipped into the mix, since Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a two-and-a-half-hour remake of the ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ sequence of The Jungle Book (1967) as Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), self-declared heir to Caesar’s legacy, has exactly the same motivation as the cartoon musical’s King Louis, to gain ‘the power of man’s red flower’. 

Fascinated by the worst of fallen human civilisation, Proximus is intent on looting a vault of weaponry which only humans could manufacture. “Are there any more of those?” the tyrant asks in delight when he sees ‘smart human’ Mae (Freya Allen) shoot one of his minions with a handgun.

It’s an inspired reworking, and Durand’s delighted reading of the role of grandiose star turned villain invests this paradoxical epic – in the end, it’s a small story with planetary significance literally as an aside – with humour and horror in equal measure.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is in UK cinemas now.