Review of “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” and the Mythologizing of Evolutionary Humanism


Cole Burgett

Article ID:



May 22, 2024


May 15, 2024

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Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Directed by Wes Ball

Written by Josh Friedman

Produced by Wes Ball, Joe Hartwick Jr., Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Jason T. Reed

Starring Owen Teague, Freya Allan, Kevin Durand, Peter Macon, and William H. Macy

(20th Century Studios, 2024)

Feature Film (PG–13)

[Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.]

For the audio review article, please click here. 

The Planet of the Apes film series is fascinating. When the original film was released in 1968, its premise — of a world where apes ruled over humans — seemed like a far-fetched narrative unlikely to captivate a wide audience. Yet this sci-fi classic, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and based on a 1963 novel by French writer Pierre Boulle,1 was both a critical and box office success, spawning a plethora of sequels and reboots that has earned the series the distinction of being one of the longest running film series in cinematic history.

Boulle’s original novel, La Planète des Singes, published in the US as Planet of the Apes, questioned the very foundations of human exceptionalism by providing a commentary on evolutionary humanism, wrapped in a layer of satirical narrative. The story explores a reversal of the evolutionary ladder, where humans are primitive and apes are civilized and technologically advanced beings. The 1968 film adaptation is also deeply rooted in the intellectual currents of twentieth century naturalism and modernism. In concept alone, one can hear the echoes of Darwinian evolution even as the script is being flipped, presenting a speculative evolution that questions the permanence and superiority of human intelligence and civilization.

The series has maintained this life-long association. As late as 2016, as the original film was screened for audiences at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts, the showing coincided with a talk given by Dr. Daniel Liberman, a Harvard professor of Human Evolutionary Biology.2 Though he sought to debunk most of the ideas in the film’s plot, one will be hard-pressed to find an evolutionary biologist giving academic lectures about, say, the James Bond films and their association with evolutionary ideas.

Does the latest film in this prestigious series maintain this connection? Well, considering that the trailers themselves include a voice over from new villain Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand) in which he growls, “Are you familiar with the concept of e-vo-lution?”3 it would seem that the ideas contained within Boulle’s original story are preserved well in the first quarter of the twenty-first century.

A New Dawn. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024) is the most recent film in the series, serving as both a prequel to the original film and a standalone sequel to Chernin Entertainment’s wildly successful reboot trilogy (2011–2017).4 It is also, supposedly, meant to kickstart a new trilogy.5 Set several generations (purportedly 300 years6) after the death of Caesar in the final moments of War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), the film introduces a new cast of characters, including the young chimpanzee Noa (Owen Teague) and shifty human Mae (Freya Allan). The plot has to do with Noa and Mae confronting a new tyrannical ape leader bent on uncovering hidden human technologies that he believes will allow him to solidify his reign.

Themes of evolution and societal development remain firmly in place here, though the film doubles down the reboot trilogy’s fascination with mythic ideas and aligns Noa’s quest to find his family with the traditional hero’s arc.7 This mythologization of evolutionary modernism is further deepened by the development of a pseudo-religious veneration of Caesar among certain sects, demonstrating a cultural shift among the apes. This reverence for Caesar and the embedding of his legacy into the developing ape societies reflects a kind of foundational myth, creating a new socio-religious dimension that functions as a cornerstone of emergent ape civilization.

As cultural artifacts, the last four Planet of the Apes films are worth their weight in gold, and one might be surprised to find so little academic study dedicated to exploring the immensely interesting divergence from traditional modernist skepticism toward religion inherent in their stories. Modernism, with its roots deeply entangled in the Enlightenment, often predicted a decline of religious influence in the face of rationality and scientific understanding.8 Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes subverts this expectation by giving the apes a foundational myth in the form of Caesar’s legacy and guiding ethos.

The story the film chooses to tell reflects a broader exploration of how societies use myth and religion to forge both communal identities and moral frameworks, particularly in the context of societal upheaval or in the creation of new social orders. The reverence of Caesar among the apes directly parallels human religious traditions wherein seminal figures are seen as both historical and symbolic, embodying the values and aspirations of a culture. In other words, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes takes the reboot trilogy’s fascination with Caesar as a kind of Christ-figure for the apes and literalizes this a bit by turning him into a semi-religious icon many generations later.9

Moreover, the evolution of ape society in the film offers a critique of the modernist dismissal of religion as an obsolete system in the age of reason. It suggests that myth-making can be an essential aspect of societal evolution, providing stability and continuity through shared narratives — and even functioning as the basis for conflict when the interpretation of those narratives runs in different directions. This actually is the main point of contention in the film’s narrative, as Caesar’s belief in the necessity of coexistence between apes and humans taught to Noa by Raka (Peter Macon) comes up against Proximus Caesar’s belief in an ape hegemony that sees no place for humankind.

Apologetics (with Monkeys). From the standpoint of Christian cultural apologetics, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (and, really, the series as a whole) fairly easily opens up discussions about messianic figures and the role of religion in shaping both cultural values and societal norms. The mythologization of Caesar, particularly, has the flavor of traditional messianic narratives and positions him as a Christ-like figure whose teachings and legacy attempt to steer ape society in a specific direction. This portrayal invites an obvious comparison with the biblical Christ, whose Scripture-preserved teachings serve as the basis for handling ethical and moral affairs in Christian communities.

But taking Caesar “out of context” in an attempt to further one’s own private agenda leads to manipulation and even cruelty. This particular complication comes with the introduction of Proximus Caesar, whose divergent belief in ape supremacy challenges the foundational teachings of the original messiah figure. This juxtaposition of ideas illustrates a debate of near-theological proportions (the thing we see Noa struggle with most throughout the film), mirroring the schisms within religious communities over interpretive authority and orthodoxy.

The fact that the film places as its central conflict the tension between the foundational teachings of Caesar and the supremacist ideologies of Proximus underscores a key thematic question: can religion truly be extricated from societal fabric, or is it a permanent part of the cultural “warp and woof?” By framing this question within the context of an evolving ape civilization, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes effectively critiques the modernist assumption that progressive secularization is the inevitable trajectory of advanced societies. Instead, it suggests what Jaco Beyers concludes in his article, “Obituaries and Predictions: A Sociological Perspective on the Future of Religion,” that religious motifs and structures may evolve, but they never fully dissipate.10

Furthermore, the progression of this series from the 1968 original to now subtly refutes earlier notions within the context of the narrative itself that saw the apes’ rise to power as a mere reversal of human civilization’s dominance. Instead, Mae’s final conversation with Noa posits that the two kinds are locked into a continuous and complex debate over power, culture, and ultimately belief. This should prompt a reevaluation of the inevitability and desirability of a truly secular future.

As Noa grapples with Caesar’s legacy versus the radical new interpretations by Proximus, the film also exposes the inherent challenges that come with maintaining the purity of foundational teachings as they pass through generations. This particular narrative thread serves as fodder for discussing the transmission of religious doctrines and the inevitable emergence of sects and heresies, emphasizing the ongoing relevance of core questions of faith and morality by suggesting they are not, in fact, mere relics of the past, but ongoing conversations that evolve alongside human society. Ultimately, this points to the need for a central authoritative text (i.e., Scripture) — if only Caesar had written things down.

Can secularism fully replace religious structures? Much like Caesar roaring his first word, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes offers up a resounding, “No!” And this conclusion both challenges the narrative of the religion-less secular progress and reaffirms the influence of religion and mythic structures in shaping and sustaining societies — even those as radically different as that of the apes. —Cole Burgett

Cole Burgett is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute. He teaches classes in systematic theology and Bible exposition and writes extensively about theology and popular culture.


  1. Pierre Boulle (1912–1994) has a history of writing novels turned into successful film adaptations. He also authored The Bridge over the River Kwai in 1952, which was adapted into the Academy Award-winning 1957 epic war feature, The Bridge on the River Kwai.
  2. Angelica Coleman, “Harvard Professor Analyzes the Evolutionary Theory behind ‘Planet of the Apes,” The Simmons Voice, November 30, 2016,
  3. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes [Film], directed by Wes Ball, written by Josh Friedman (Century City, CA: 20th Century Studios, 2024).
  4. After the misfire remake of the original film in 2001, the franchise was effectively rebooted in 2011 with the seventh in the series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The film kicked off a new trilogy written by Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa, Mark Bomback, and Matt Reeves, and featured the highly-publicized casting of Andy Serkis as Caesar, a character that originated in 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes. The reboot continuity, at this point, only loosely connects to that of the original pentalogy of films and reimagines Caesar as the first ape to rise up against humans. His story is told across the next two films of the reboot series, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and War for the Planet of the Apes (2017).
  5. Todd Gilchrist, “‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ Director Wes Ball on Trilogy Plans and Making ‘Legend of Zelda’: It’s ‘Dying for a Cinematic Treatment,’” Variety, May 10, 2024,
  6. Alejandra Gularte, “Planet of the Apes Is Appealing to the Summer Box Office,” Vulture, May 11, 2024,
  7. See Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) as the primary text for the popular discussion surrounding the “monomyth,” or the theory of archetypal heroic journeys in world mythologies.
  8. For a thorough exploration and refutation of the “conventional wisdom” idea that secular modernity necessarily leads to the demise of religion, see Jaco Beyers, “Obituaries and Predictions: A Sociological Perspective on the Future of Religion,” Acta Theologica 33, no. 1 (2013): 1–28,
  9. I suppose, if we’re splitting hairs, the argument could be made that Caesar functions more as a Moses figure in the reboot trilogy, leading the apes out of an oppressive society and into a new home; however, I would point out that the New Testament writers clearly sees Moses as a “type” of Christ, so the point becomes somewhat moot. For context, see the clever wordplay Luke uses in the Greek text when discussing the transfiguration account in Luke 9:30–36. Here, Moses and Elijah are said to be speaking with Jesus “of His departure [literally, ‘exodus’] which He was about to fulfill at Jerusalem.”
  10. Beyers, “Obituaries and Predictions.”
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