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Review: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

Review: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

It’s conventional wisdom that the movies of 1968 were as polarizing as its politics–a time of assassinations, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Chicago DNC riots, and Rosemary’s Baby. But the year's most enduring Hollywood property played it right down the middle, a cautionary allegory about nuclear war starring the future savior of the NRA. 

The mangled Statue of Liberty and groveling Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes have become singular pop culture images that the four ensuing sequels and 2010s reboot trilogy have never come close to rivaling. But that was before the latest ape king called his brethren to order with an eagle on his arm. Though it could have been yet another feeble IP resuscitation, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes strives to be much more. And despite being mired in Hollywood’s worst tendencies, it flourishes.

Dispensing with most of the lore established in the 2011-2017 Apes cycle, the film picks up 300 years after the simians’ rise. When a radicalized cult of monkeys invades the rural village of the Eagle Clan, teenage Noa sets off to rescue his family and friends. Along for the ride are a human woman hiding her motives and a wise old orangutan, the last of the Jedi-like “Order of Caesar.” This new ape army led by Proximus Caesar has perverted the legacy of the previous film’s hero and aims to open a bunker filled with military toys to cement his power. 

The greatest strength of this latest Apes is its focus on intraspecies conflict. By escaping easy “humans bad” ecocriticism, director Wes Ball makes a profound statement about our natural desire to conquer and the moral codes integral to notions of freedom. Noa may be carrying a franchise, but he owes as much debt to the westerns and war movies of classic Hollywood as the previous installments. Bridging the power of cinematic story with seamless CGI, Apes is a reminder that Hollywood isn’t dead–if it can keep its stinking paws off its best filmmakers’ visions.