Wednesday, May 8, 2024

An involving 'Planet of the Apes' tale

   Kingdom of the Planet of Apes brings welcome freshness to a franchise that began in 1968. A mashup of big issues -- the tyrannical perversion of once-noble ideals, among them -- add thematic weight to the movie's vividly imagined surface.
  Employing ever-improving motion capture technology, director Wes Ball tells the story of young chimp Noa (Owen Teague), an ape who wants to please his father, the head of the Eagle Clan of apes, now the planet's dominant species. 
    Ball quickly informs us about the world we're in. A mysterious virus has caused humans to regress. They're no longer able to speak. The same virus has givenapes the ability to talk, although they retain many of their animal traits.
   A masterfully conceived cliff-climbing sequence introduces Noa, whose village soon will be ravaged by a band of masked-ape marauders. After the devastating raid, Noa embarks on a quest to rescue captured members of his clan, including his mother (Sara Wiseman).
  Noa isn't alone on the road. He's joined by a sagacious orangutan (Peter Macon's Raka) who introduces him to the now-forgotten philosophy of Caesar. A key figure in several previous movies, Caesar promoted pacifism and compassion among apes. 
  A young human (Freya Allan's Mae) rounds out the traveling trio. Although she looks like a feral creature, Mae harbors a secret. Once revealed, her intelligence shocks Raka and Noa, a familiar but still satisfying series ploy.
   Focusing almost entirely on apes, Kingdom doesn't want for a convincing villain. The ferocious Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand) tries to entice Noa, who's eventually captured, into becoming an ally. Proximus wants to penetrate an abandoned human facility that houses technology he believes will enhance ape capabilities, and, more importantly, secure his dominance as king of all apes.
   Ball handles the movie's action -- a battle on a bridge and the ultimate confrontation between Noa and Proximus -- with skill and verve. 
    Will we see Noa again? The finale, set in Proximus' seaside city, exposes Mae's previously hidden motives, leaving the door open for additional movies.
     It's too early to complain about the length of summer movies (Ball's runs for two hours and 24 minutes) or to cavil about the endless perpetuation of big-screen series. Ball deserves credit for making room for genuine character development and for minimizing human presence.
    The eerie beauty of its landscapes, some dotted with the lonely remnants of human construction, add to the movie's power. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes proves a worth addition to a long-running series that still has life in it -- even if it takes a big CGI boost to create it.

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