What to Know Before Seeing ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’

For some, the name “Planet of the Apes” might conjure memories of Charlton Heston in 1968. But the most recent incarnation of the sci-fi franchise has been going strong since 2011. These “Apes” movies feature no fuzzy costumes or heavy prosthetics, and instead are feats of computer generated performance capture technology.

The latest one, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” (in theaters), is both a direct sequel to its predecessors and a bit of a reboot of the property. Whereas the first three films in this new series took place within a relatively compact timeline, “Kingdom” jumps centuries into the future. And yet, thematically, it is still deeply connected to what came before. So what should you know going in?

Caesar is dead. Long live Caesar.

Directed by Wes Ball, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” takes place “many generations” after the first trilogy of films in this monkey business: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014) and “War for the Planet of the Apes” (2017). Yet, those movies’ protagonist, Caesar, is perhaps the most important unseen character in “Kingdom.” He’s long dead — we see a glimpse of his funeral — but his legacy as a leader is debated and referred to throughout the plot.

So who is Caesar?

Caesar is a chimp, played by the performance capture king Andy Serkis. “Rise” (streaming on Hulu), directed by Rupert Wyatt, introduces Caesar as a baby. His mother was a lab chimp who is killed when she lashes out. The scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) takes Caesar in and raises him himself. (“Rise” is the only movie where humans are more central to the story than apes.) As Caesar grows up it is clear he is remarkably intelligent thanks to the drug that Will has been working on, which is meant as an Alzheimer’s cure. As Will and his team continue to develop the formula it eventually becomes clear that it makes apes smart but unleashes a deadly virus on the human race. (More on that later.) Caesar still has affection for Will and his human caretakers, but he leads an uprising of mistreated apes.

In “Dawn” (on Hulu and Max), which was directed by Matt Reeves and takes place about “10 winters” after the events of “Rise,” humans encounter Caesar’s camp and ask him to help them restart a dam for their survival. Caesar, being the benevolent leader he is, obliges, but is met with resistance from Koba (Toby Kebbell), an ape who saw the worst of humanity in captivity before his escape. Koba plots to overthrow Caesar by making it look like humans murdered him, and therefore leads a crew of apes to attack the humans’ compound. Caesar, however, survives and must break one of his cardinal rules: “Ape not kill ape.”

Koba’s betrayal leads directly into the plot of “War for the Planet of the Apes” (on Hulu and Max), another Reeves picture, in which Caesar is being pursued by a vicious human colonel played by Woody Harrelson. Now Caesar is a hardened leader, but is ultimately more compassionate than the homo sapiens he faces off against. As he makes his final stand he is shot with an arrow. The apes are saved, but Caesar dies.

What happens to all the humans?

The drug, ALZ-113, that leads to the development of intelligent apes turns out to be fatal for the human race. At the end of “Rise,” the Simian Flu decimates humanity after first being contracted by a lab worker who then sneezes blood on a pilot, who takes the disease on the road. By “War,” the virus has mutated and is rendering humans mute. As apes are getting smarter, humans are returning to their primitive state. The apes of “Kingdom” are now fully verbal, while humans are (for the most part) silent creatures called “echoes” by the apes. They are essentially wildlife, drinking from watering holes with zebras. In the meantime, apes have fractured into tribes with different traditions. The new hero, Noa (Owen Teague), belongs to a group that raises and trains eagles.

What is Caesar’s symbol?

Throughout “Kingdom” there is reference to a circular design representing Caesar. Raka (Peter Macon), an orangutan and scholar of Caesar, wears it around his neck. That is a nod to the window in Will’s house from which Caesar would peer out when was just a young ape, a symbol of hope. How this new crop of apes interprets Caesar’s actions becomes the backbone for the narrative of “Kingdom.” Was Caesar a conflicted friend to humans? Or an ape tyrant? We know that it’s the former, but not all of the primates of the future do.

Is there hope for humanity?

You’ll just have to watch and see.

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