Movies On Air: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes 

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is better than it should be, if you can get over the whole talking apes thing.  

I know. “Apes” is right there in the name – that clunky, awkward name – and hairy hominids are loping all over this far distant future, where humankind is reduced to ancient books, crumbling skyscrapers, and herds of fleshy scavengers. 

But apes are only the IP. They’re the reason a studio wrote a check for $160 million, the biggest ever for a movie with “Planet of the Apes” in the title. At its heart Kingdom is a classic hero’s journey, like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, and it’s told with just enough confidence to make you see past the apes. 

Kingdom’s plot is a tale as old as time. Only the names have been changed: 

  1. Hero arrives. In Kingdom his name is Noa, and he’s the son of a tribal ape leader known for training falcons and living in trees.  
  1. Hero is spurred to action by loss, adversity, and a villain. Here the villain is Sylva, a monstrous gorilla commanding a horde of gorillas on horseback. They’ve got no love for falcons and tree dwellers.  
  1. Hero leaves home, encountering mentors, friends, enemies, and more adversity. There’s only one mentor, Raka, the quirky orangutan. The friends are numerous, including a human, Nova, who’s not quite as feral as she seems. Noa’s enemies are led by the Villain in Chief, Proximus Caeser, a power-mad monkey obsessed with whatever’s behind thick steel doors.  
  1. Hero grows and confronts villain(s) one last time before a (hopefully) happy ending. I won’t spoil much, except to say Kingdom has a lot of fun weaving its way to the happy ending. 

There’s an old writer’s hack called “The Lester Dent Master Plot,” by a pulp fiction writer from the ‘30s and ‘40s. Lester would be proud of Kingdom screenwriter Josh Friedman. He follows the master plot to the letter, heaping trouble on our hero and then letting him escape, only to heap more trouble on him before another escape.  

Kingdom is an ode to the golden age of pulp serials, a testament to the power of formula. If Noa’s orangutan mentor knew how to read, he’d recite these exact same fables from the ancient books he loves so much. 

But this is 2024 and apes have evolved. On the franchise timeline, Kingdom apes are the distant ancestors of the rubber-faced monkeys Charlton Heston met in the 1968 original, but the visual FX are light years ahead. The environments are gorgeous, especially the skyscraper forests and overgrown airports. Director Wes Ball has fun reminding you this is still Earth. 

The apes themselves look and act real, even when they’re riding on horseback, or talking in stilted monkey-speak. Some of the voice actors are painful, most are passable, and one runs wild with it: Kevin Durand as Proximus Caesar. He appears at the exact right time, with his schemes and dreams and manic howl, giving this film a jolt of energy at the exact right time. Again, Lester Dent would be proud. 

If you look past the apes, you see Kingdom for what it is – the latest parable in a long line of parables dating back to Heston’s famous walk on the beach with Lady Liberty. And even if that doesn’t mean a damn dirty thing, you might still enjoy this tenth installment in the franchise.  

Kingdom is the movie for humans with no love for Apes.