Movie Review: 20th Century Studios’ “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” Is a Hero’s Journey That’s Worth Following

This coming weekend will see the release of the Disney-owned 20th Century Studios’ Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, which is the tenth theatrical film in the Planet of the Apes franchise. Laughing Place was invited to attend an early press screening of the movie, and below are my mostly spoiler-free thoughts on this installment.

Way back in 1968, the world was wowed by the groundbreaking science-fiction thriller Planet of the Apes, co-written by The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling (from a 1963 French novel) and starring Ben-Hur actor Charlton Heston. 56 years, nine follow-up films, and two reboots later, and director Wes Ball (previously known mostly for the Maze Runner franchise) is continuing the series with Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, a direct sequel to 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes and its two predecessors… not to mention the first to be released under Disney as a parent company. The Apes legacy is a heavy burden to bear for a relatively unproven filmmaker, but Ball strikes the proper tone pretty much right off the bat as he skillfully weaves the story (written by Avatar: The Way of Water scribe Josh Friedman) of Noa (It’s Owen Teague), a young-adult chimpanzee whose clan living out in the wilderness is skilled in falconry– so much so that passing down this talent has become something of a rite of passage among their kind.

But one day after an attack by a warring tribe of apes, Noa must set out on the road into unfamiliar territory to rescue the members of his family who have been kidnapped by Proximus Caesar (Lost baddie Kevin Durand in another imposing villain role) and his followers, all of whom misuse the name and teachings of Andy Serkis’s revolutionary character from the previous films. Along the way Noa meets an inquisitive orangutan named Raka (The Orville’s Peter Macon)– who quickly proves himself as the movie’s most charming character– and a mysterious human woman they call Nova (The Witcher star Freya Allan), who may be keeping a secret or two from her simian companions. There are also memorable supporting turns by Travis Jeffery and Lydia Peckham as Noa’s best chimp buddies, plus an unexpected appearance by a rather famous character actor later in the film, though I won’t spoil who that is or what his role entails except to say that it’s an interesting one.

I was so impressed by the first two-thirds of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (the action and visual effects are great, and the production design and performances are even better) that I was ready to call it my favorite entry in the franchise until I was left just a tad disappointed and confused by the film’s third-act climax and subsequent conclusion. But there’s so much other great stuff going on before then that I can absolutely call the movie worthwhile to check out in the theater, with the design of the post-apocalyptic world’s grown-over skylines being close to the top of my list of coolest things I’ve seen on the big screen in a long while. This rousing chapter in the ever-expanding Apes narrative– which utilizes the “Hero’s Journey” storytelling template popularized by mythologist Joseph Campbell to great effect– is set “many generations” after the events of War, and human civilization is indeed in shambles. But a big part of the fun here is discovering just how bad things have gotten for all the sentient creatures living on this Planet, and how exactly our various protagonists intend to make things better.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes will be released this Friday, May 10th, exclusively in theaters.

My grade: 4 out of 5 well-loved Kurt Vonnegut novels.

Laughing Place recommends Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for the best film, food, and drink - all in one seat.
Mike Celestino
Mike serves as Laughing Place's lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly "Who's the Bossk?" Star Wars podcast. He's been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.