Movie Review: ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ Finds a New Hero and Will Blow Your Mind

 This image released by 20th Century Studios shows a scene from "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes." (20th Century Studios via AP)
This image released by 20th Century Studios shows a scene from "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes." (20th Century Studios via AP)
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Movie Review: ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ Finds a New Hero and Will Blow Your Mind

 This image released by 20th Century Studios shows a scene from "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes." (20th Century Studios via AP)
This image released by 20th Century Studios shows a scene from "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes." (20th Century Studios via AP)

Fans of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise may still be mourning the 2017 death of Caesar, the first smart chimp and the charismatic ape leader. Not to worry: He haunts the next episode, the thrilling, visually stunning “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.”

We actually start with Caesar's funeral, his body decorated with flowers and then set alight like a Viking, before fast-forwarding “many generations later.” All apes talk now and most humans don’t, reduced to caveman loin cloths and running wide-eyed and scared, evolution in reverse.

Our new hero is the young ape Noa (Owen Teague) who is like all young adult chimps — seeking his father's approval (even chimp dads just don't understand) and testing his bravery. He is part of a clan that raises pet eagles, smokes fish and lives peacefully.

That all changes when his village is attacked not by humans but by fellow apes — masked soldiers from a nasty kingdom led by the crown-wearing Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand, playing it to the hilt). He has taken Caesar's name but twisted his words to become a tyrannical strongman — sorry, strongape.

Unlike the last movie which dealt with man's inhumanity to animals — concentration camps included — ape-on-ape violence is in the cards for this one, including capturing an entire clan as prisoners. Proximus Caesar's goons use makeshift cattle prods on fellow apes and force them to work while declaring “For Caesar!”

Screenwriter Josh Friedman has cleverly created a movie that examines how ancient stories can be hijacked and manipulated, like how Caesar's non-violent message gets twisted by bad actors. There's also a lot of “Avatar” primitive naivete, and that makes sense since the reboot was shaped by several of that blue alien movie’s makers.

The movie poses some uncomfortable questions about collaborationists. William H. Macy plays a human who has become a sort of teacher-prisoner to Proximus Caesar — reading Kurt Vonnegut to him — and won't fight back. “It is already their world,” he rationalizes.

Along for the heroic ride is a human young woman (Freya Allan, a budding star) who is hiding an agenda but offers Noa help along the way. Peter Macon plays a kindly, book-loving orangutan who adds a jolt of gleeful electricity to the movie and is missed when he goes.

The effects are just jaw-dropping, from the ability to see individual hairs on the back of a monkey to the way leaves fall and the crack of tree limbs echoing in the forest. The sight of apes on horseback, which seemed glitchy just seven years ago, are now seamless. There are also inside jokes, like the use of the name Nova again this time.

Director Wes Ball nicely handles all the thrilling sequences — though the two-and-a-half hour runtime is somewhat taxing — and some really cool ones, like the sight of apes on horseback on a beach, a nod to the original 1968 movie. And like when the apes look through some old illustrated kids' books and see themselves depicted in zoo cages. That makes for some awkward human-ape interaction. “What is next for apes? Should we go back to silence?” our hero asks.

The movie races to a complex face-off between good and bad apes and good and bad humans outside a hulking silo that holds promise to each group. Can apes and humans live in peace, as Caesar hoped? “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” doesn't answer that but it does open up plenty more to ponder. Starting with the potentially crippling proposition of a key death, this franchise has somehow found new vibrancy.



R.E.M. Delivers Surprise Performance at Songwriting Gala 

Rock band R.E.M Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe and Bill Berry attend the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductions and gala in New York City, US, June 13, 2024. (Reuters)
Rock band R.E.M Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe and Bill Berry attend the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductions and gala in New York City, US, June 13, 2024. (Reuters)
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R.E.M. Delivers Surprise Performance at Songwriting Gala 

Rock band R.E.M Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe and Bill Berry attend the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductions and gala in New York City, US, June 13, 2024. (Reuters)
Rock band R.E.M Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe and Bill Berry attend the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductions and gala in New York City, US, June 13, 2024. (Reuters)

R.E.M. performed onstage together for the first time in well over a decade Thursday, reuniting to play their classic "Losing My Religion" as they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills broke up in 2011, and the last time all four members played onstage together -- Bill Berry left in 1997 -- was in 2007.

But entrance into the who's who of music that is the prestigious songwriting pantheon got the band back together.

"Songwriting is the very foundation of why we came together in the first place," lead vocalist Michael Stipe told AFP. "We're really proud."

The band was inducted by Jason Isbell, who performed a cover of R.E.M's "It's The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" at the event.

"R.E.M. was greater than the sum of its parts. R.E.M. moved like a single instrument," Isbell said.

The Songwriters Hall of Fame celebrates its inductees with a festive dinner and intimate concert instead of a televised event.

Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael -- the duo known as The Bacon Brothers -- opened the show with a foot-stomping rendition of "Footloose," the Oscar-nominated title track of the hit 1984 film of the same name.

Bacon starred in the movie -- but Dean Pitchford wrote it and much of its music, and was among the elite group inducted Thursday.

The writer of many hit films and musical tracks, Pitchford thanked the adoring audience "for hearing all these years, and above all, thank you for listening to me."

Trey Anastasio of Phish inducted Steely Dan, while chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame Nile Rodgers -- the beloved co-founder of Chic -- bestowed SZA with a special award for songwriters "at an apex in their careers."

It's "just beyond all of my wildest dreams," SZA said, before performing an acoustic rendition of "Snooze."

Rodgers took his moment onstage to emphasize that "there would be no music industry if there were no songs," specifically calling out streaming platform Spotify to "acknowledge and make a point of songwriters being your priority."

- Hip hop, country, and Oscar royalty -

None other than Missy Elliott had the crowd on its feet as she inducted Timbaland into the coveted class.

"In hip hop, there was certain ways that hip hop music sounds -- Timbaland... literally changed the cadence," she said, adding that the producer, rapper and singer whose hits include "Give It To Me" was a master at marrying sensibilities of rap and R&B.

"Thank you for giving me a seat at the table," Timbaland said in a lengthy acceptance speech, before conducting a house band through a medley of his hits and those he produced for the likes of Elliott, Justin Timberlake and Beyonce.

Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban performed in honor of Hillary Lindsey, a Nashville songwriting star who's written for artists including Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Shakira.

And Diane Warren -- the songwriter who's earned 15 Oscar nominations, including for "Because You Loved Me" performed by Celine Dion and Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" -- received the night's highest honor, the Johnny Mercer award.

She, like all of the inductees, said being honored by her peers was particularly special.

"It's songwriters -- what's cooler than that?" she said.