Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue May 14, 2024 5:59 pm 
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Defeat of Planet of the Apes

This new entry into the "Planet of the Apes" franchise is intermittently engaging, lively, and full of grand scenes. But it's a misfire. Both the filmmaking and the writing are lacking in that je ne sais quoi that made the originals gripping and hypnotic. Besides which this too-long film takes too much time getting started, and then at the end doesn't really go anywhere.

The whole power of the ape world is lessened for a simple reason: rather uninteresting humans - just one, really - have been allowed to take over. The concept is that over many, many generations - the time line is necessarily vague - dominance has shifted back and forth. Something went wrong. A magic pill, or whatever, that was supposed to make humans smarter made them dumber, literally mute, and apes smarter. The whole idea is a confusion. This was nonetheless the original "Planet of the Apes" concept that goes back to the Pierre Boulle novel and its original 1968 film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. But that had Charlton Heston. You didn't necessarily like him, but he was powerful, the essence of charismatic human hubris. Kingdom lacks a big human star.

What actually happens this time is a diminution. A handful of apes link up with a shapely Netflix star from Britain, Freya Allan, known here as Mae. This is an uninteresting, vague character and a mediocre actress. How disappointing when she took over the action and broke into an ill-defined ruined industrial-scientific complex to capture a thingy she brings to another pretty woman to - well, no use trying to explain, but it doesn't do the apes any good, or us.

The notable element here is that Caesar, the perpetual ape dictator-prototype (though played by someone new this time called Kevin Durand, not Andy Serkis anymore) gets a chance to conduct a real Hitlerian grand rally. If only the sequence could have been staged at night, and lighted and photographed in the style of Leni Riefenstahl, it might have been something. Unfortunately Caesar gets overthrown afterward too easily. It seemed quite implausible that he'd suddenly have no supporters left at all. But the last part of this movie just seems clumsy and confused.

The old "Planet of the Apes" movies, some of them anyway, were magical, so full of drama and giant personalities. Maybe we should just be talking about the new technology. Of course: CGI and performance capture, which no doubt have been improved on even further here. But they were already well developed at least a decade ago with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. So we would just be talking about little technical tweaks. What counts most is the story, the acting and the dialogue.

Even though a couple of recent ones were good, the heyday of "Planet of the Apes" was the Seventies: 1968, 1970, 1971, and 1971 were the original films when it was all fresh and exciting even if it was a bit spun-out and they were uneven. That was when we cared. Nothing more recent, starting when Tim Burton's 2001 redo came out., has had quite the original frisson. Burton had a notable cast including Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Giamatti, Estella Warren and Kris Kristofferson. (Burton's "Planet" got, ranked at the bottom though on a Vulture ranking list of all ten films that came out last week.) Matt Reeves' 2014 Dawn of Planet of the Apes, by the way, had the longtime player of Caesar, the grandiose ape leader, Andy Sirkis, along with the charismatic child actor Kodi Smit-McPhee, who was then 18, and Gary Oldman and Ken Russell.

If we talk about money, $90 million to $170 million have been spent on the five twenty-first-century "Planet of the Apes" movies, and a relative pittance on the early ones - even allowing for how much more the dollar was worth back then. But ultimately, though, in science fiction making us believe in the created world is all-important, it's not about the money. It's about the story and the human values.

Rupert Wyatt's 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes was pretty fine stuff, great cast (though the "human" roles were underused), great story, with lively, risk-taking acting from James Franco. Critics preferred Matt Reeves's 2014 Dawn of Planet of the Apes, which was more grand and grim and had fancier CGI. So it goes: it seems this franchise brings out people's worst taste. But this new entry in the franchise, with its muddled storyline and unnecessary length, still ranks worse with the critics than Rise of.... And they're so right.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Aapes, 145 mins., debuted in many countries May 8, 9, and 10, 2024. Screened for this review May 14 at Hilltop Century, Richmond, CA. Metacritic rating 66%.

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