When Caesar succumbed to his injuries and died at the end of War for the Planet of the Apes, he had led his loyal followers to victory over humanity and to a brand new place for them to call home. It was the perfect conclusion to one of the great trilogies of our time, but now it's time for the franchise to be kickstarted again with Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.

300 years after the events of War for the Planet of the Apes, ape civilizations have emerged from the oasis to which Caesar led his fellow apes, while humans have regressed into a feral, primitive state. When the ape king Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), armed with weapons forged from lost human technologies, perverts Caesar's teachings to enslave other clans, the chimpanzee hunter Noa (Owen Teague) embarks on a harrowing journey alongside a human girl named Mae (Freya Allan) to determine the future for apes and humans alike.
It's been a road of mixed emotions for me in the build-up to Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, feeling both excitement and trepidation for this new film, particularly with how great the last two films in the franchise were. With all that in mind, for anyone else worried, Wes Ball settles you back into this world almost instantly - stunning visual effects and a worthy story to continue this franchise combining to great effect. Josh Friedman pens an emotionally charged narrative that showcases the idea of Caesar's legacy being both honoured and taken advantage of for self-gain. It really does make for such compelling viewing and immediately adds a different angle after Caesar fought so hard for apes to be free.

It's imperative to the film that the visual effects are of a high standard, seeing as the main characters on show are brought to life through motion-capture performances. They really are the driving force of these films ever since Rise revitalised the franchise, and with each film they've left me astonished at just how they achieve such flawless work. That is no different here with Kingdom, seamless in its use of visual effects amongst real locations, in turn making the world feel much more believable. It's impressive enough to begin with but just you wait until water comes into play because it just goes to another level totally. Like the films of the previous trilogy, Kingdom delivers some fantastic action sequences that only further emphasise the brilliance of the visual effects on show.
There's no denying the Andy Serkis shaped hole when it comes to the performances, his Caesar from previous films being utterly stunning. However, everything evolves and that includes the respective casts of each film in the franchise. The new cast here do a great job in bringing the apes to life with such life and warmth, Owen Teague in particular in the lead role of Noa - a young chimpanzee trying to prove himself to his father but soon thrown into a dangerous journey of discovery. You can sense the wonder of learning new surroundings in Teague's performance, as well as the fierce loyalty to his family and clan.

Kevin Durand takes up the mantle of the franchise villain and he certainly brings his bombastic screen presence to proceedings as Proximus Caesar. Durand possesses both a playful and sinister nature in Proximus, making him quite a formidable foe for Noa and his clan. The human presence in the franchise has diminished further since Rise and Freya Allan does a fine job in providing the film with a humanity the apes aren't quite used to yet themselves. One of the strong points of the franchise has always been watching the worlds of apes and humans collide, Teague and Allan forming a captivating duo for the film to follow.

While it doesn't quite reach the heights of Dawn or War, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is the kind of intellectual summer blockbuster that feels a bit of a rarity these days. It's the perfect example of how to blend masterful visual effects with an engaging narrative, and with how they decide to end this instalment, the future of the franchise is looking very interesting indeed.

Verdict: ★★★★½


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