Saturday, May 18, 2024

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes: Are we humans really humans or are we monkeys?

I've written about all the Planet of the Apes movies and I even named the 1968 original number 6 on my list of all-time favorite films. What is it that draws me to these films? 

For one, they have virtually all been really well done, with the Mark Wahlberg/Tim Burton 2001 edition being the only non-essential addition. CGI dehumanizes most movies that use it, but the Apes never lose their heart and their ability to overwhelm our senses.

The other thing is that apes and monkeys are just awesome. They obviously aren't humans but their similarities to humans is always present. Just about any story that places monkeys on or around the same level as humans has a good shot at gripping me. The premise - which some think is goofy -remains quite probably my favorite one in all of movie and pop-culture history.

But it's not just the premise. The big-budget, action-adventure parts wouldn't work nearly so well if there weren't exceptional characters and big sociological issues being dealt with. All the latest in the remarkably long-running series are prequels to the 1968 original, so we know somehow that humans will find a way to survive, if only in small pockets where they can escape the potential wrath of the apes. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), and War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) set the scene: humans developed an Alzheimer's cure that leaked from the lab and made most humans dumber but somehow made apes smarter.

As for the new Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, I loved it and the suspense and questions it asks at the end are a monumental setup for the inevitable collision course with the original's Charleton Heston-led storyline. 

Taking place several generations after War, a Coastal-dwelling and fierce clan of apes have twisted the meanings of the former great leader Caesar, who had dictated peace among the apes ("ape not kill ape") and also between the apes and humans. Nearly all apes have forgotten or never known about Caesar by this point. So the evil and power-hungry apes are exploiting that lack of historical knowledge and are now on a rampage to enslave any apes and humans who don't bow to their commands. 

However, there is one bird-loving, talented-climbing community of chimpanzees that, along the way, discover the true teachings of Caesar, and provide a formidable foe to the bad guys. Humans don't even appear in the film's first half, and when they do, we see they are witless packs who roam to survive and run from the occasional ape encounter. Monkeys have no reason to believe any of them can think let alone talk. But then along comes Nova (different from the Nova of the 1968 film, but apes have taken to calling many or all humans by that name), played by Freya Allan, who teams with the peaceful, bird-loving monkeys to not only outwit the evil apes but (hopefully?) revive humanity. Raka, an orangutan, is also key in relocating this bridge between humans and Caesar's apes.

In many ways, the chronology of the Apes movies doesn't much matter. It feels like humans (and apes) will keep repeating the failures and mistakes of our past, into time immemorial. We will keep fighting other tribes. We will keep believing unfactual things. We will keep getting diseases that some make it difficult to remedy. I think humanity's own current foibles is why the Planet of the Apes continues to be so awe-inspiring.

5 out of 5 stars

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