New Planet of the Apes: ‘Definition of generic’

In the film’s first big action set piece, Noa’s village is attacked by marauding apes on horseback wearing rusted face masks and carrying torches and taser-like spears. The scene is deftly orchestrated to let us share Noa’s horror as they set fire to his village and take any survivors prisoner. The kinetic scene proves how well Ball uses the technology, and if all you need is apes in action, there is plenty of that throughout.

After the attack, Noa vows to his slain father that he will bring the prisoners home, and sets off on a typical, too-familiar hero’s journey, being brave and learning some lessons. His first lesson is from a wise orangutan, Raka (Peter Macon), who teaches him what Caesar believed: “Apes together strong. Ape not kill ape.” Good luck with that. The masked riders are led by a power-mad ape who wears a crown and calls himself Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand). He has adopted the original Caesar’s mottos but uses them as a veil for his dictatorial regime.

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Anyone looking for an analogy with authoritarian trends today will have a hard time, though. The screenplay is so flat it’s kind of an insult to the apes’ intelligence. And they are smart. In this world, the virus that made Caesar and other apes brainy has spread to humans, with the opposite effect. We are now stupider than ever and unable to speak.

One exception is Mae (Freya Allan), a young woman Noa and Raka meet as they head toward Proximus’ settlement. She doesn’t have much of a character herself, and mostly stands for the question of whether apes and humans can trust each other and coexist. William H Macy, the film’s other human character, has a small role as a man who has survived being captured by Proximus by reading books to him, a skill the apes have not yet mastered.

If you have seen War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), the final instalment of the Caesar trilogy, you might be astonished at how derivative the last stretch of Kingdom is. Once again, a ruthless leader holds apes prisoner in an abandoned weapons depot. This time everything is rusted from age and the ruler is Proximus instead of Woody Harrelson’s Colonel, but still. They couldn’t come up with anything better to cause the inevitable explosion?

Behind the impressive CGI, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is the definition of generic, all two hours and 25 minutes of it. The ending teases a sequel that offers a more intriguing conflict ahead, but that doesn’t help us now.

★★☆☆☆

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