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Film: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes
Cast: Owen Teague, Freya Allan, Peter Macon, William H. Macy, Kevin Durand, Dichen Lachman
Director: Wes Ball
Rating: 3/5
Runtime: 145 min

This fourth instalment in the newly rebooted franchise has a brand new cast of characters with a timeline that has moved several decades ahead. The modern world is in ruins, reclaimed by nature, and the intelligent talking apes are now the dominant species, living in clans and tribes scattered across the new world.

The theme though remains the same – ‘Ape. Together Strong.’ It’s been carried through several sequels and this one too has an obligatory reference to the prophetic words signed off by Andy Serkis’ Caesar in 2011’s hit prequel ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes.’

This current instalment that continues the trend of putting primates front and centre, brings renewed life to the franchise with its perfect craft, intelligent sub-plots and entertaining action. The film has emotional depth and moral complexity too but the path it treads feels familiar and repetitive.

The story begins with the coming-of-age, rites-of-passage task of chimpanzee Noa of the Eagle Clan (Owen Teague) who along with his friends Soona (Lydia Peckham) and Anaya (Travis Jeffery) are out in the mountains searching for eagle eggs to bond with and nurture as their own. But just before the ceremony, his clan is attacked by rival apes and taken to a new location for enslavement. Noa, who narrowly misses out on being taken, sets out on a journey to rescue them, and, along the way, encounters a wise Orangutan, Raka (Peter Macon) and a strangely intelligent, scavenging human, Mia (Freya Allan), and the three join hands to stay safe from the predators en route.

The narrative takes giant leaps ahead in time with a new setting and characters. Josh Friedman’s script has some new ideas fuelling its storyline but it largely feels like a revisit to the same old ‘Apes Versus Humans’ conundrum. The world-building though is exemplary and there are a few themes here that keep the interest going. At 145 min, this is the longest instalment and even though there is a fair amount of balance in the action beats and the plotting, the narrative does feel as though some of the ideas and themes had to be cropped for the story to move forward. The theme that finds greatest fluency here though is the idea that Caesar’s teachings have now been twisted way beyond recognition, over time, to suit the new world order. It’s a fairly clever reference to current politicians twisting and misusing old-world values as institutionalised by our forefathers.

The narrative strength lies not in the story beats but in the character development and creation. Every simian individual who inhabits this post-apocalyptic world looks distinctive and well-realised through impeccable motion capture performances. The high-on-detail textured visual effects and exquisite design is the best we’ve experienced so far. While the film is not exactly action heavy, the visual effects still look a cut above those of other CGI heavy film experiences. The focus here is on character and plot and the action merely appears when there’s some major conflict.

Wes Ball’s direction never allows the plotting to get dull and even the low-key moments feel necessary. When  action kicks in gradually, it’s beautiful to watch. The action choreography is masterful and the camerawork, simply breathtaking. We see flashes of beauty in the post-apocalyptic ruins and the images thereof are quite haunting. The attention to detail in creating the ape characters is amazing. The visual effects bring to life the Ape dominant world with stunning realism. Some of the deeper themes may not be fully explored but they hint at complex dynamics that might find fruit in future installments.

Kevin Durand’s Proximus Caesar is imposing but we never get to know much about him. Quite a few key characters are introduced and dispatched without any development to speak of. We also don’t experience much tension or edge as the narrative plays out. The final act also doesn’t rise up to the occasion. It’s the technical specs that fascinate here. The seamless, impeccable imagery and the exacting finishing craft are an unparalleled experience to behold. Wes Ball might not have been able to sharpen the tension here but he manages to compensate with stunning visual effects, and emotional heft. The setting, characters, and themes are resplendent and the tech aspects are terrific.This film may not garner an adrenaline gush but it definitely is as entertaining and immersive as its predecessors.

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