Kingdom come

Will Ferris
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Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (12, 145 minutes)

Can an ape ride a horse? In reality, you can imagine the loud, frantic gibber not too dissimilar to what you would expect to hear on a maternity ward and a lot of commotion. That’s what apes do.

But not these ones.

In the Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, they gallop cross country like mediaeval conquerors, brandish weapons, including something resembling a cattle prod, handle birds of prey and this time all of then talk.

This is all thanks to a man-made virus designed initially as a cure for Alzheimers which gifted the primates the drug was experimented on with human intelligence and in Caesar’s case the ability to speak, later mutating further to render humans mute. But before that, Caesar decided to fight back against the cruelty displayed against his kind and earth – or America, at least – was taken over by the apes.

Humans, meanwhile have regressed into a feral state.

Kingdom is set 300 years after the death of ape rebellion leader Caesar at the end of the previous 2017 film, with his dying wish for apekind to live peacefully in a utopia long forgotten.

Instead, they have split into small tribes. Some are peaceful whilst others are focused less on throwing poo or collecting eggs and more on pillaging villages, domination and even genocide, led by a phoney messiah bonobo calling himself Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand) who is obsessed with gaining entry to a sealed vault that he is convinced holds human technology capable of making him even more powerful.

The new central character this time around is Noa (Owen Teague), a chimpanzee living in a peaceful community that has a special affinity with eagles. When his family is kidnapped and their home destroyed by Proximus’s rampaging thugs, Noa sets off on a rescue mission, on the way coming across compatriots a wise orangutan Raka (Peter Macon) and human Mae (Freya Allen) who turns out to be that rarest of creatures in the future, an intelligent human with a voice and an agenda of her own.

During their journey, Noa comes to realise that everything he has been taught about the past is a lie and Caesar’s teachings have become lost to time.

It becomes increasingly clear to him that apes and humankind must somehow learn to live together in peace.

But how, with so much history to come to terms with?

For yet another prequel in this relaunched franchise, Kingdom isn’t half bad, although this is apparently the first of a new thread of three films. There may not be an Andy Serkis amongst the CGI ape faces, but the cast here has really put in the effort in delivering a gripping story, if labourisly slow in the build up, with committed performances.

Visually, it’s stunning and credit must be given for the incredible ways in which writer Josh Friedman creates contrasts between the apes and some of the unsavoury villains and conquerors in our history.

There is also an interesting question left hanging over who exactly Mae is and what part she has yet to play in the tale.

But alas, the film does have its problems. The opening goes on for far too long, dragging us through an ape haven of tribal tradition and ceremony before we get to the real meat of the story. While there is much enjoyment to be found here, the franchise has started to become a bit sluggish, which doesn’t bode well with centuries worth of storyline left before the point where Charlton Heston and his crew crash land from the past.

RATING: 7/10