Monday, June 10, 2024

More Monkey Business

by Ben Soton

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes continues the series of films made between 2011 and 2017. Simians still live within the ruins of human civilisation; whilst the remaining humans have been reduced to a feral state and have lost the power of speech.  Despite the absence of Andy Serkis, who provided much of the work behind the facial expressions in the previous films, the acting and special effects are of a high standard.   
Though the concept goes back to a 1963 French sci-fi novel the early American movies, made between 1968 and 1973,  reflected the fears of imperialism at the time including race riots, Vietnam war protests and challenges from the socialist camp.  Human civilisation has been replaced by an ape based hierarchical system akin to feudalism; ironically intended to be a parody of socialism. Also reflected in the television series that followed two fugitive astronauts and a renegade chimp continuously outwit a troop of gorilla soldiers, who mistakenly believe their society; hierarchical, backward and agrarian is superior to the human civilisation that preceded it.    
The recent franchise has similarities and differences.  At the end of the preceding film, War of the Planet of the Apes (2017) an ape called Caesar establishes an egalitarian society in which the first rule is Ape Shall Not Kill Ape. A misnomer, common to both franchises is that only humans kill their own species.  It is widely documented that chimpanzees regularly commit murder and the animal kingdom as a whole is far from benign.  Environmental issues and the frailty of human civilisation are at the heart of the recent franchise. Human civilisation is being destroyed by a deadly virus after which apes and remaining humans battle for limited resources.  However apes are not really apes but representations of the human other.  The other social system, the other race – the other part of the world.  In situations where the apes have become dominant the position is reversed.  This is reflected throughout both series of films.
Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes opens with a benign group of apes, known as the Eagle Clan, who subsist by training eagles to hunt for them.  In the opening scene, lead character Noa (played by Owen Teague) and a group friends undertake a coming-of-age ritual, to cement their position in the clan.  The Eagle Clan becomes enslaved by a more aggressive group of apes led by another Caesar (played by Kevin Durand), not to be mistaken for the Caesar in the previous film.
Caesar resembles King Louis in Kipling’s Jungle Book as he grapples to acquire lost human technology. The film centres around Noa’s attempts to free his clan and Caesar’s desire to acquire human technology.  A key to both their quests is the talking human Mae (played by Freya Allen), whose loyalties are uncertain.  As with the earlier Planet of the Apes movies, we see the triumph of hierarchy over egalitarianism. Notions of man verses nature are also prominent whilst the exploitation of the Eagle Clan by Caesar is a possible reference to colonialism. But at the end of the day it all boils down to table-turning – and if you liked the others you’ll certainly like this.

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