Kingdom of the Apes: Originality, Innocence or Imitation?

Image credits: THE NAKED APE: Freya Allen helping humanity bear it all, for the sake of the planet rapidly running out of time.

I forced myself, under dire circumstances, to go and watch Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024), primarily out of respect for the classic Planet of the Apes (1968), especially since there’s a woman character here named Nova (played by Freya Allan). So, what can I say about the 2 hours and 25 mins movie?

By Emad Aysha
It’s good! It's not great, mind you, but it's competently done, with a nice premise, lots of ambition, and great production scale and design. We begin with an idyllic world where a chimpanzee community is living in peace and harmony with nature. They raise eagles, snatching eggs from their nest as part of a rights of passage ritual for all—boys and girls—but without any greed or gluttony.

They’re primarily vegetarians, with a little salted fish, and humans are kept away from them but without hunting them. Then, their community gets ransacked and enslaved by a rising kingdom, and you find that the erstwhile leader calls himself Caesar and believes what he’s doing is justified because it will unite all the apes under one banner and guarantee their dominion.

This guy, who’s named himself Proximus (Kevin Durand) like a Roman emperor, hopes to open a vault full of human weapons and, from there, eradicate what’s left of the human race, even in its reduced form. The one ape who escapes capture, Noa (Owen Teague), who can’t quite tame eagles, goes on his hero’s journey and anthropological journey of self-discovery to try and free his clan. That’s when he encounters the charming orangutan Raka (Peter Macon) and the primitive human Freya Allan, who turns out to be named Mae.

PLAYMATE OF THE MONTH: The original Nova (Linda Harrison) with Charlton Heston's bleak reminder of humanity when it needs to be humbled.

Raka tells him that the new leader is no Caesar, perverting the teachings of the original ape leader who freed them and who ruled with compassion in an effort to reconcile apes with humans. You got the distinct impression that this was a reference to extremists perverting the holy scriptures of their ancestors, or even better yet, the Americans of today perverting the Constitution!

Even the necklace with Caesar’s original symbol has a cross-like quality. Civilization is also condemned implicitly in this movie, although it is also seen as essentially inevitable. After leaving the theatre, I had an intuition that this was modelled on Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, and I was right. That’s how the director, Wes Ball, pitched it to the studios.

Something else commendable about the movie is the thriller aspect, a series of mysteries that need to be solved. Who are the bad guys? Will the hero succeed? Who is designing the tasers? What is the deal with Nova? These are the marks of a good science fiction movie, which this definitely is.

The movie has lofty intentions but can’t quite carry them through to the end. The director is great at special effects and a pretty darn good world-builder, but he doesn’t seem to know how to handle actors and get the best out of them, and his dialogue has a flat, YA feel to it.

Also, the creature design and animation work better for the bad guys than the good guys for some strange reason. With the exception of Raka, who is a delight to look at and listen to, he adds levity and is the voice of conscience here. Kudos to the actor, and the same goes for the performances of Kevin Durand and Freya Allan.

Proximus does have a bit of a comical character to him, but the actor is good nonetheless, and he played Joshua in Dark Angel, so he’s perfect for animals behaving like humans. Freya is excellent. She convinces you she’s a mute savage on par with the original Nova (Linda Harrison). She shifts gears seamlessly and becomes a deceitful, intelligent human with a secret mission.

I liked her more when she was mute. She acted more with her face and eyes, which were beautiful. Her scratched-up face helps. (She wears too much makeup in real life, although she bronzes nicely). She’s so natural that you can’t help but sympathise with her till he turns civilised.

The movie contains some throwbacks to the original franchise, especially Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) and the TV series, let alone the Charlton Heston classic that is still the pick of the bunch. Complete respect to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). I don’t think this is nostalgia-baiting, but it is also evidence of a little lack of creativity.

KINGDOM COME: There's just no escaping dictatorship and empire, is there? Is it a learning curve or a self-fulfilling prophecy... or Hollywood conversing with itself?!

The ending is open. Will humans and apes learn to live in peace, and have the humans themselves learned from their ordeal? Maybe. You can’t help but notice that the human satellite base is very racially mixed and weighted more towards women. (How things have changed, since race relations was key to the old movie). Noa and his sweetheart also go to an old museum at the end, where Raka keeps all his books and looks up through the telescope.

Knowledge and advancement are inevitable. (A captive human reads books for Proximus, particularly on the Roman empire, except for the anti-war Kurt Vonnegut). You can’t protect yourself through isolation as before, hiding in nature and ignorant of the (lessons of the) past. (He does tame the eagles in the end, using them to defeat Proximus, working with nature instead of against it). And the name Noa is an indicator of carrying his people to safety.

There is a flood in the end that wipes out the goodies Proximus is after, and the chimpanzee clan has a very native American quality to it. (Notice the mute humans not hunting the Zebra?) Does all this add up to a Paradise Lost? We’ll have to wait and see… in the next sequel!


Emad Aysha

Academic researcher, journalist, translator and sci-fi author. The man with the mission to bring Arab and Muslim literature to an international audience, respectably.
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One comment on “Kingdom of the Apes: Originality, Innocence or Imitation?”

  1. The remakes I watched can't beat the original... although I haven't watched this one yet...

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