How Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Inches Closer to the Events of the Original Film (2024)

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Exclusive: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes director Wes Ball says the newest entry in the franchise takes us further into the future and closer to the events of the original 1968 film.

How Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Inches Closer to the Events of the Original Film (1)By Don Kaye | |

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How Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Inches Closer to the Events of the Original Film (2)

Director Wes Ball tells Den of Geek that he remembers seeing the original 1968 sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes on “HBO or something” as a child, watching with his dad. “I’m sure all the concepts probably went over my head,” he muses now. “I was probably very young. I don’t remember having a reaction to the Statue of Liberty, but I remember the images very clearly. I remember the feral humans in the grass and the apes on horses and the sets and obviously that [ending] on the beach. That’s what I remember—the images, the iconography of it all.”

The original Planet of the Apes indeed contains some of the most iconic images in all of sci-fi cinema, and it’s no coincidence that some of those images—along with other references—have been reimagined for Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, the 10th entry overall in the 56-year-old franchise and the fourth in the rebooted series of films that began in 2011 with Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Director Matt Reeves (The Batman) picked up the torch for the next two entries, 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes.

Reeves’ films completed a trilogy about a chimp named Caesar (played to astonishing motion capture perfection by the great Andy Serkis), his intelligence enhanced by an artificially-created virus; and he leads an ape uprising against humanity as human intelligence and civilization is decimated by the same virus. War for the Planet of the Apes ended with Caesar successfully defeating a surviving human militia and leading his people to a valley they could call home, even as he dies upon their arrival.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is set “many generations later,” when a tribe of apes called the Eagle Clan, living peacefully in perhaps the same secluded valley, are attacked and captured by a vicious squad of gorillas who serve a tyrannical leader named Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand). A young Eagle Clan member named Noa (Owen Teague) sets out to rescue his people, learning in the process about the real Caesar—whose legacy has been dimmed by the passage of time—while also discovering that the remnants of human civilization could still pose a threat to the entire ape race.

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Going Further Down the Timeline

Ball is adamant that he did not want to pick up the story in the immediate aftermath of the death of Caesar. “The ones that Rupert started [with Rise] and Matt finished with Dawn and War were just fantastic,” the director says. “Perfect closure. I just couldn’t see where that story goes. I couldn’t see where it felt like we would be giving someone something new to see. So really, when we got our distance from it, it unlocked all these new opportunities and new potential. But we didn’t want to lose the connection, so we carry over the idea of Caesar in the movie.”

In its initial development, the story of Kingdom was set even further in the future than it is now. “At first I was thinking it was 1,000 years and I was like, that’s too far,” explains Ball. “I’m not even saying it’s 300 years [note: some of the marketing has suggested this]. We never really fully say. It can be whatever you want, but it’s enough time that there’s this kind of dark ages where enough knowledge has been lost, where Caesar has become this myth and legend, enough time that our world is starting to kind of disappear—what’s left of it anyway. That was to me the key that really unlocked all these other ideas.”

One idea expressed more expansively in the new film is that of different ape clans emerging and clashing with each other. In some ways it’s a concept that has been around on a more individual level throughout the entire history of the franchise, with gorillas frequently representing a more warlike philosophy against more peaceful chimps and cerebral orangutans. But all those conflicts took place within a single ape community in the past; although it was implied in the more recent films, this time we see that other ape colonies have sprung up and may not have the best of intentions toward their neighbors.

“This whole idea came from War and the Bad Ape character,” says Ball. “There are other apes out there that also went through their own journey towards sentience. That was just fascinating to me. There are tons of apes all over the country, all over the world. What are their stories? I thought it was interesting to play with that. There are apes that don’t know anything about Caesar. That lets us play with what happened to Caesar in his stories. So it’s about how those worlds have to collide. This is kind of a weird historical epic—just like in our own history, we have different clans that come together, are at war with each other, come apart, all that stuff.”

Are We Heading Toward the Original Planet of the Apes?

It’s a been a hotly-debated question on the minds of Apes fans since the series was resurrected in 2011 with Rise: is this current continuity going to eventually lead us to a retelling of the original Planet of the Apes, with an astronaut from our era traveling through time to land in a far future ape civilization?

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The timelines of the original five movies and the current four are only similar in a superficial sense, with different explanations given for the rise of the apes and the decline of humanity. But the easter eggs are there, and a few are made more explicit in Kingdom. For example, there is a scene in the new film of apes hunting feral humans in the wild that pays direct homage—right down to certain shots and the original Jerry Goldsmith musical cues—to the classic sequence in Planet of the Apes. Other references include a dangerous, unknown land—a Forbidden Zone, if you will—and the naming of Caesar as the “First Elder,” which could be another way of denoting him as the Lawgiver from the original films.

Wes Ball acknowledges that the hunt scene in his film is meant to mirror that in the first Planet of the Apes. “It just seemed like the right idea,” he explains. “It was a way of saying, ‘Hey, we’re making a Planet of the Apes movie here.’” As for whether the subtle incorporation of other Apes lore into the film points the way toward ultimately landing on the original story of astronaut George Taylor’s arrival in the year 3978, Ball seems reluctant to suggest that they’re ready to retell that story…yet.

“The truth is that we have these three Caesar films behind us,” he says. “We’re starting from there. But way off in the distance is that Charlton Heston ’68 version. It’s a long way to get there. There’s plenty more stories to tell before we ever get there, but that is what’s in our sights. But that comes with a lot of opportunities. Like, when did the Statue of Liberty get blown up? Where did the Lawgiver come from? Where do the Sacred Scrolls enter into it? There are so many little things that would be fun to play with as we fit into the lore of this awesome franchise that’s spanned 50+ years.”

Naturally, Ball adds that ideas for the next film are already percolating—if Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes continues the success that the franchise has managed to sustain for nearly six decades. “If we’re lucky enough and people latch on to this thing and want to see more, we’ve got big ideas about where we want to go,” he hints. “We’ve been thinking about it for a long time—it’s been a five-year process for me—so we’ve got some ideas where we want to go with this thing if we’re lucky to make it.”

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is in theaters Friday (May 10).

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Tags: Matt ReevesPlanet of the ApesWar For the Planet of the ApesWes Ball

How Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Inches Closer to the Events of the Original Film (3)

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Don Kaye|@donkaye

DonKayeis an entertainment journalist by trade and geek by natural design. Born in New York City, currently ensconced in Los Angeles, his earliest childhood memory is…

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