Review: We’re not going “ape” for ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’

Simian slugfest a decent, unexciting placeholder for inevitable sequel

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes
Where: In theatres
What: Movie, 145 mins.
When: Fri., May 9
Genre: Action
Rating: NNN (out of 5)
Why you should watch: Cool CGI but not enough ape/human interaction. Placeholder for inevitable sequel.

PART OF what has made the Planet of the Apes franchise so venerable has been the combustive interaction between humans and beasts as well as the constantly changing power relationship between them. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t really bring in the humans in any meaningful way until almost two-thirds through the movie. So, instead, we get a somewhat cliched “quest tale” that could have been lifted from the endless volumes of Lord of the Rings subplots.

The story picks up a few generations after this film’s awesome predecessor, War for the Planet of the Apes, in which the ape hero Caesar (Andy Serkis) battled human arsehole The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) with epic results. Apes now rule the planet, with humans a furtive presence in the shadows and the long-deceased Caesar is revered with almost godlike status by all simians.

Our schlubby hero Noa (Owen Teague) is an excitable young ape, misunderstood — of course — by his cold, distant and demanding father, the ruler of the Eagle Clan apes, who have formed an inexplicable alliance with the winged beasts that now deliver fish to the primates. (Please pay attention because this avian-ape alliance will prove important later in a plot loaded with loose ends and unexplained actions.)

The Eagle Clan happily live in awesome CGI-created foliage-rich, tree high-rises until their idyllic lives are torn apart by raiding ape soldier followers of Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand). It’s never clear why this wannabe Caesar successor is on this pillage spree — which is often the case in this film where character motivations are equally mysterious or unexplained.

There are some decent MCU-esque ape-on-ape battle scenes. Noa survives the onslaught that sees many of his clan-apes either killed or dragged away to become slaves. He hops on his horse — and apes riding horses still looks awfully cool — and befriends a wise orangutan named Raka (Peter Macon), whom, inexplicably, we are told via subtle clues is gay. They are eventually followed and then joined by a random human named Mae (Freya Allan).

After the usual quest-like diversions and side trips, our heroes find themselves trapped in Proximus’s slave camp. Proximus eventually takes on an almost Donald Trumpian level of demography as he blends and mangles heritage tales to serve him. He speechifies to his assembled ape slaves, giving a rally cry that flips from friendly to fearsome and appears to be calling to “Make America Ape Again.”

William H. Macy pops up as a world-weary human giving advice no one wants to hear and leaving viewers hoping he at least got a good paycheque for his pointless appearance in the film.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a somewhat passionless tale that’s missing almost any wink-at-the-audience humour. With few clear heroes, it awkwardly ploughs through its story like humans trying to walk through thick jungle underbrush. The entire film feels like setup for the inevitable sequel that seems to hint at more ape-human interaction. But damn, the apes do look realistic, making the whole thing kind of cool but not as good as its predecessors.