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Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (Christian Movie Review) 

About the Film 

“Apes together strong!” Apes may not rule our planet, but they’ve repeatedly conquered our cinema. The recent reboot of the original Planet of the Apes films (1986-1973) is often heralded as one of the “most underrated” top-tier movie franchises of today. The films have consistently been box-office and critical successes. Now, seven years after 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes, the series has returned with a new director and a fresh cast of characters. Director Wes Ball takes the baton from Matt Reeves and runs with it. Despite a clunky title, the series is as good as ever. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a Hollywood blockbuster done right, boasting incredible visuals, immersive worldbuilding, and a compelling story.   

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is set “many centuries” after the events of the previous three films. Caesar, the protagonist from those stories, is long gone and Earth has become a full-fledged planet of the apes, with the surviving humans mostly primitive and mute.  Familiarity with the franchise adds context to this film, but some quick opening title cards prepare newcomers for the next stage of the tale.   

The film is accessible partially because the filmmakers never stray far from the basics of storytelling. While typically classified as science fiction, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes more closely resembles a classic fantasy adventure (increasing my optimism for director Wes Ball’s upcoming adaptation of The Legend of Zelda). The timeless stages of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” are evident throughout. Noa, the new chimpanzee hero, must venture out of his peaceful village to overthrow the evil, oppressive ape empire. Narratively, it’s not reinventing the wheel (after all, these apes are still trying to invent the wheel for the first time), but it leans into many of the classic storytelling elements that have proven to work time and time again.   

Perhaps it is merely an unfavorable testament to the recent slate of Hollywood films, but it is ironic that one of the most fundamentally human stories of the year is in a film populated primarily by primates. Compared to the previous films, the human-to-ape ratio is dangerously low. In fact, there are only two speaking human characters for most of the film. Yet, much like the big blue Na’vi in James Cameron’s Avatar series, the non-human characters embody relatable human experiences and character arcs. Far from being merely a CGI-heavy spectacle of non-human characters fighting, the film is a story about family, coming-of-age, and navigating a changing world.    

That said, the film is an impressive spectacle. Apes riding horses through sweeping vistas spotted with the ruins of human civilization is a peak movie-going experience. The visual effects are impressive and should be a contender at next year’s Academy Awards. The post-apocalyptic landscape is immersive and interesting, contributing to the worldbuilding without distracting from the characters who populate that world. Speaking of the characters, the apes look as real as any primates you could find in your local zoo. There is an incredible level of detail in the fur and faces.   

The movie starts slow, and the third-act climax doesn’t quite realize its full potential, but Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes tells a satisfying, self-contained story that shouldn’t leave audiences feeling like they’ve seen only the opening act of a larger tale (looking at you Dune: Part Two). The film also proves that there are more stories left to tell in this primate-dominated world. Some third-act developments point toward future plot progressions. More importantly, this fourth entry in the rebooted series shows no signs of fatigue. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is easily one of—if not the—best movies of the year so far.   

On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

The Gospel According to Apes    

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is not a Christian allegory, but it contains some interesting glimmers of the gospel. Some of the apes refer to the humans as “echoes” due to the noticeable similarities in physiology. The more advanced the apes become, the more they seem to reflect fallen human nature. In the beginning of the film, Noa’s tribe appears uncorrupted and pure, living in harmony with nature. Yet, like the biblical account of human origins, it doesn’t take apes long to succumb to jealousy and the desire for power.   

Early in his journey, Noa encounters an orangutan named Raka who reveals that he belongs to the “order of Caesar,” which represents the closest thing the apes have to a religion. Caesar—now long dead—is reverently called “the first elder” and has become a sort of Christ figure. Raka is essentially a priest, wearing a symbolic pendant around his neck, preserving sacred written texts, and proclaiming Caesar’s moral code of compassion to humans and non-violence toward fellow apes. In contrast, Proximus—the upstart primate king —also outwardly adheres to Caesar, although he twists Caesar’s words to suit his own empire-building agenda.   

Noa finds himself in a tug-o-war between these two worldviews, forced to discern what is true and how he ought to live. In a sense, Noa is a convert to Caesar-ism (Caesar-anity?). In a pivotal moment, he acknowledges that Proximus has declared a new law of the land but states, “that law is wrong.”     

Obviously, the parallels only stretch so far. Even so, it is notable how the film explores ideas such as the natural inclination toward selfishness and our innate longing for a religious worldview or code as the answer to those problems. Likewise, the notion of power-hungry individuals taking sacred teachings out of context and twisting them for their own purposes is clearly not a tendency restricted to apes.   

Ultimately, the film suggests that humanity cannot start over with a clean slate and hope for different results. In both the fictional world of apes and the real human world, the answer to our self-destructive nature must come from a source outside of ourselves.   

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