In a way, the Planet of the Apes franchise is perfect for our times: we live in a world with wars, climate disasters, and pandemics. In light of this, imagining that the human race might become extinct or lose its dominance over the Earth does not seem as distant or impossible as it might have once seemed.

The series was born under the shadow of atomic annihilation with the masterpiece Planet of the Apes (1968), a film that never ages. Today, the fears are different, but in the current context, a new production of the saga fits very well. And so we have this Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, the first of the saga after Disney’s acquisition of the former Fox studio, which also follows in the footsteps of the successful recent trilogy that revitalized the brand.

Set centuries after the journey of Caesar, the leader who awakened the intelligence of the apes and led them to become the dominant species on the planet, this new film features young Noa (played by Owen Teague) as the protagonist, living with family and friends in a peaceful clan. His life is transformed when another clan, claiming to follow Caesar’s teachings, attacks the village. Noa also encounters a strange human (Freya Allen), who seems to show signs of intelligence. Together, they embark on a journey that could change the fate of the relationship between apes and humans.

A WORTHY ADVENTURE IN EVERY SENSE

Josh Friedman’s script is not entirely bulletproof—some important plot points are poorly explained—but it is adept at launching some clever surprises for the audience, including references to the original, such as a hunting scene that even reuses pieces of Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score. And Wes Ball’s direction—an alum of Fox studio, having directed the Maze Runner films—makes Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes an engaging experience. Ball is somewhat distant from Matt Reeves, the director who helmed the two best films of the previous trilogy, and Kingdom doesn’t feature a performance on par with Andy Serkis. However, it manages to do the basics well and create yet another epic adventure worthy of the franchise.

Visually, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes shows refinement in the performance capture technology that brought the apes to life in the previous trilogy: each character is highly expressive, with distinctive marks and imperfections in their fur. In short, they all seem alive. It remains impressive to see the richness of interactions between characters created by computers: some scenes between Noa and his father, or between the hero and his master, the orangutan Raka (an excellent Peter Macon), are full of subtleties in their performances.

There are also some really impressive action sequences and grand visuals that further expand the world seen in the previous trilogy. It’s hard not to compare it to what James Cameron did in the Avatar films, but Planet of the Apes remains a worthy competitor. However, it is in the subtexts within the story that Kingdom stands out.

PESSIMISTIC AURA

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes addresses various themes, showing the apes’ world as a strange reflection of our own: there is religious fanaticism—the enemy clan’s leader, Proximus (Kevin Durand), distorts Caesar’s word to his advantage—prejudice, and the old debate about the possibility (or not) of coexistence between apes and humans. None of this is really new to the franchise, but the film uses these familiar elements in interesting ways, valuing the complexity present in these themes.

Near its conclusion, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes starts to feel less like an evolution for the franchise and more like setting the stage for further sequels. However, even so, the film maintains an intriguing tone that could point to good developments in the future. And we kind of know where that future is headed: Planet of the Apes is a pessimistic saga by nature, although some of the films have tried to find hope here and there.

The essence of these films, dictated by the original 1968 movie, is that humans will ultimately be the cause of their own destruction—a notion that is unfortunately still very present and powerful, and one that filmmakers continue to know how to explore well, even almost 60 years later.