Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes – impressive but apes ain’t what they used to be

Kevin Durand as Proximus Caesar in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (Pic 20th Century Studios)Kevin Durand as Proximus Caesar in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (Pic 20th Century Studios)
Kevin Durand as Proximus Caesar in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (Pic 20th Century Studios)
Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes (12A), (145 mins), Cineworld Cinemas

It’s epic, it’s spectacular, it builds powerfully and visually it is stunning, but the trouble with Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes, the latest in our latter-day prequels, is that it doesn’t half make you feel nostalgic for the original Planet of The Apes films way back when.

In the early 1970s, the films – and indeed the TV series – were creaky and maybe the costumes/make-up somewhat less than convincing, but they had real intrigue, they felt incredibly new and they had genuine menace.

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For all its impressiveness – and it really is deeply impressive – Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes is lacking in most those respects. Perhaps undermining it most of all, oddly, is just how astonishingly life-like the apes are. You sit there wondering to what extent you are actually watching the work of a computer programmer rather than a film-maker.

Plus the fact it’s at least half an hour, maybe three quarters of an hour too long, in its quest to achieve the epic status it so clearly sets its heart on. Even so, it does get going eventually after a sluggish start which will leave you wondering what on earth is happening and who on earth is who. Hampering the film at various points is the fact that one monkey looks awfully like another.

The gist is that the baddie apes have pillaged and destroyed the village of a peaceable clan of nice apes who like nothing better than searching for birds’ eggs and playing around with eagles. In the devastation, Noa’s dad, something of a bird master, is killed and the survivors are led off to the headquarters of the evil despot Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand).

The response from Noa – played by Owen Teague, though it’s difficult to know what played by in this context actually means – is to set off to save them. Along the way he acquires wise old Raka (Peter Macon) and takes on board, horror of horrors, a human. Even worse, it turns out that it is a human that can talk, Mae (Freya Allan), and therefore – though Noa is slow to realise this – a human with very much her own agenda.

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There are plenty of adventures along the way including a cracking bridge-crossing scene, but Noa and Mae inevitably get rounded up and carted off to exactly to where they wanted to go – a human industrial site in overgrown disrepair where nasty old Proximus is desperately banging at the door trying to grab for himself all the human knowledge he somehow knows is in there, the key to consolidating his power and accelerating the apes’ conquest. Let’s face it. They are still pretty primitive. They haven’t even mastered English yet, endlessly talking in staccato highlights, dropping all the connectives and refinements of our language. They might want power, but a little bit of grammar might be a better starting point.

But at least by now, things are hotting up for a genuinely exciting final 20 minutes – an ending which poses plenty of questions. Can humans really be trusted? Is any kind of accommodation with them ever worth the risk? Noa learns plenty on his quest. But there’s no doubting Planet of the Apes 1970s-style was far more enjoyable – and far more sinister.