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Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

truly breathtaking and awe-inspiring visuals spearheaded by our own wizards of Wellington Wētā FX

★★★★½ - STUFF

- Wētā FX’s wizards at the heart of franchise’s bold new entry-

It has been billed as the beginning of a new trilogy – and by it’s own director as, “Apocalypto with apes”.

Arguably it’s also a risky proposition, a return to a beloved now 56-year-old film franchise, seven years after the Oscar-nominated War signed off the last trilogy in truly spectacular fashion.

But while its vertiginous, immersive opening raises the spectre of both polarising Aliens’ prequel Prometheus and James Cameron’s Avatars (especially with its unexpected bird-monkey bonding premise), Kingdom eventually becomes a coming-of-age road-revenge movie that is not only a compelling self-contained adventure, but also whets the appetite for more monkey business down the track.

Returning to the alternative post-ALZ-113 outbreak-affected Earth “many generations” after the death of Andy Serkis’ decent, moral and compassionate ape leader Caesar – and simian language and culture has become both well-established – and tribal.

There isn’t much that Noa (Owen Teague) is afraid of, but his father’s wrath is up there. Having gone to great lengths (and heights) to secure his egg for the impending “bonding” ceremony, Noa is distraught when it is smashed during an encounter with an “Echo” (his tribe’s word for a human).

Concerned that his “master of birds” Papa will be embarrassed and outraged, Noa decides a night mission to retrieve another is his only option.

Unfortunately, he rides straight into trouble, a group of masked gorillas who he unwittingly leads back to his village. Watching with horror as his home is burned and family and friends either massacred, or taken capture, Noa only narrowly avoids suffering a grisly fate himself.

Vowing to find them and bring them home, he follows the raiding party’s trail, encountering the last member of the Order of Caesar, orangutan Raka (Peter Macon), on his travels and discovering that he himself is being followed.

While director Wes Ball (The Maze Runnertrilogy) and screenwriter Josh Freedman (Spielberg’s 2005 War of the Worlds remake, Apple TV+’s Foundation) have cleverly crafted a propulsive, gripping, standalone story, it’s also one that feels – appropriately enough – like a “missing link” between last decade’s Rise-Dawn-War triumvirate and the beloved ‘68 original.

Caesar is still a touchstone, while there are nods to scenes in Franklin J. Schaffner’s sci-fi classic and echoes of Jerry Goldsmith’s unnerving and haunting score in John Paeseno’s (The Hot Zone) soundscape.

Yes, not everything completely makes sense in terms of the two species de- and e-volutions, and this is definitely a case of less-allegory, more action than Matt Reeves’ triptych, but the commitment to world-building, character and storytelling (this entry feels like a cross between Mad Max and The Last of the Mohicans by way of Fallout, Apocalypse Now and The Searchers) is impressive, as are the sometimes truly breathtaking and awe-inspiring visuals spearheaded by our own wizards of Wellington Wētā FX.

It might no longer a three-ring Serkis, but the full-bodied – and voiced – performances of the likes of Teague (Eileen), Kevin Durand (Abigail) and Peter Macon (The Orville), as well as human Fraya Allen (The Witcher), are certainly noteworthy.

But perhaps what delighted me most about Kingdom was how many jaw-dropping, inventive and subversive twists Ball and Freedman have managed to keep hidden.

In an era where blockbuster trailers seem to give away all but what the actors had for lunch on day 25, it was truly refreshing to have some genuine surprises as this rollercoaster ride unfurled.

- James Croot, STUFF

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is now playing at Light House Cinema! 


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