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By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published May 19, 2024 5:00 am

By the final shot of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, your personal sense of cinematic déjà vu takes over: the final piece of the puzzle tying the original five films to these rebooted prequels clicks into place, and you understand what is hovering in the skies, out of sight but set to bring things full circle to the Charlton Heston landing of the first Planet of the Apes film back in 1968.

The fourth and latest installment takes place many generations (300 years or so) after the intelligent chimpanzee Caesar has died, but his gift of speech has caught on with other chimps, orangutans, and gorillas. Meanwhile, humans have become scattered, speechless, given to wearing burlap loincloths and hunting the odd zebra. The tables have clearly turned.

(Left) Peter Macon, Owen Teague, and Freya Allan on a road trip in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.

We still have questions of logic and the imagined Hasslein Curve quantum theory to grapple with—the space-time conundrum that both bedeviled and fueled fans of the original Apes cycle. But for now, we can enjoy the emergence of a new set of characters, generations after Andy Serkis’s memorable Caesar led his fellow simians to freedom and began a relatively peaceful period of ape clans and further human devolution.

But not all apes are peaceful, and when we encounter Noa (voiced by Owen Teague), a chimpanzee living in a clan of falconer apes, he’s gathering falcon eggs as a rite of passage with his fellow chimps. The ritual is quickly interrupted by mask-wearing gorillas on horseback wielding Taser-like spears to subdue the falconer-clan apes. Noa escapes and encounters a wise orangutan named Raka (Peter Macon) who carries books of history, and knows that apes and humans once “co-existed” peacefully and that Caesar was one smart, righteous dude—er, ape. They also pick up a stray human (Freya Allan) who’s not wearing burlap, but jeans and a blouse, though she appears as mute and clueless as the other scattered humans. They call her “Nova,” a nod to the earlier 1968 Apes chronology.

Freya Allan in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024)

Wes Ball directs from a story by Josh Friedman that alludes to our modern-day divisions (Gaza and Israel, Red and Blue states, Russia and Ukraine) without being too obvious. As usual, the humans come off worse than the apes. Duplicity is second nature to them, a skill the apes haven’t quite picked up yet.

Ball is a slow-cook director, and he tends to shoot too many darkly lit scenes, but his focus is on setting up character dynamics: Noa (impressive beneath layers of seamless performance capture technology; Serkis has coached him well) struggles to impress his too-strict falconer dad, and after the horseback gorillas attack, he and his new pals embark on a road trip that soon takes them to a beachside compound run by a certain monarch gorilla (Kevin Durand) calling himself “Proximus Caesar” who has turned all the weaker clans into his servants— including a human collaborator played by Bill Macy, who earns his keep by telling stories from an old human library about the Roman Empire. And we all know what happened to that empire.

The beachfront where Proximus sets up his kingdom fronts a huge underground bunker entrance that he daily instructs his servants to break into, which they never do; and the beachfront is eerily suggestive of the spot where, in the 1968 original, Heston and his “Nova” discovered a buried Statue of Liberty—the big reveal that he’d been on Earth all this time!

So here we are, back where things are set to begin all over again. Judging from the film’s final shot, this is the point where the series could add one more entry to bring us full circle and wrap things up—or shoot for the moon and reboot the original five movies from scratch. For fans, we’re ready to take that ride, either way.