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Kingdom of The Planet of the Apes

"Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes"

K G Kline

"The ape who would be king"

Every studio executive at Disney should be made to watch "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes". This is how you reboot a franchise. "Kingdom" gets it right. Over the last decade we've been bombarded with reboots that were little more than fan worship - Movies that glorify the old characters and props while afraid to add anything new or daring, or even change one single plot point. I'm talking about franchises like "Star Wars," "Ghostbusters," and the recent "Indiana Jones" film, Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe is showing signs of falling in love with itself too much to allow the growth it so desperately needs. Not so with "Planet of the Apes."

Here's what "Apes" gets right:

Set about 300 years after that last film, "Kingdom '' finds intelligent apes now in control of a beautiful, lush landscape growing out of the ruins of long-dead Human cities. A man-made virus has stripped Humans of their intelligence and passed it on to apes. The apes live in small communities, their science still in the bronze age. Ceasar, the hero of the previous films, is a long-dead memory, worshipped by some, misunderstood, and exploited by others. A modern version of "Zardoz,” and perhaps something more.

By taking the film 300 years into the future the filmmakers were able to strip away the trappings of the previous films. Amazingly, they avoided the trap of turning every original character and plot device into a cult icon. Nothing from the old "Planet of the Apes" films is saved or sacred except the iconic moment when an ape picks up a Human doll and hears it say "Mama.”

Our new hero is Noa, a cocky teen chimpanzee from a peaceful clan that employs Golden Eagles to catch fish for them. From a sociological point of view the clan is clever and interesting. The way it mirrors the many peaceful Native American tribes that perished under colonialism is worthy of discussion, as is the way it becomes subjugated and enslaved by a violent and marauding tribe of Gorillas. We saw nothing in the previous "Apes" films to suggest this was the direction the franchise was heading, making the film refreshing compared to other reboots that have kept to a slow and steady course.

Tracking his family into slavery, Noa begins an odyssey reminiscent of a Kurasawa film. First to arrive is an older Orangutan cleric who still worships Caesar, and the old ways. In another film he might have been the old samurai or gunslinger who gives the young fighter a code to live by. Next comes a mysterious Human woman named Nova (a nod to the original films). Nova appears smarter than the animal-like Humans now populating the Earth, but still Noah looks down upon her as being little more than an animal. Like the witches of "Macbeth," there are lessons to be learned from this mistake.

When Noah finally catches up with his enslaved family, we learn they have been captured to help a Gorilla king (using the stolen name of Caesar) to open a huge set of metal doors, behind which lie Humanity's most powerful secrets. At this point the film is following "Jungle Book," with its ape king trying to convince Mowgli to surrender the secrets of "man's red fire,” but that's not a criticism. That was Kipling, and it's still a clever idea.

I'm not going to go much further, because at this point the film takes an abrupt 90 degree turn as a character finally speaks out, and an old danger is rediscovered.

In short, "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" dares to do what no other sequel or reboot has done recently (including "Avatar"). It takes its story in a fresh, new direction, while stripping away the old trappings and leaving them as a distant memory instead of an icon on the altar of fandom.

It's not a perfect film. I wish Nova's character was better developed and less two-dimensional (she represents a lot). There's also something seen by Noa and Nova through a telescope that seems very important near the end, but sadly remains unseen (probably because the studio hasn't decided what it is yet). Clearly "Kingdom" is a chapter in a much larger story.

Disney, take note! "Kingdom" shows it's time to drop the X-Wings, TIE Fighters, and Stormtroopers and build a bigger sandbox. There's room for growth, for new ideas and directions, if only studios will open their eyes to films like "Kingdom."