Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes convinced me director Wes Ball is perfect for The Legend of Zelda movie

From the Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes to the Kingdom of Hyrule, Wes Ball might be just the hero we need to bring The Legend of Zelda to the big screen.
Director Wes Ball on the set of 20th Century Studios' KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo by Jasin Boland. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Director Wes Ball on the set of 20th Century Studios' KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo by Jasin Boland. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved. /

Last week, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes swung into theaters, kicking off the summer movie season with a bang. We've just gotten in the box office numbers for its opening weekend, and as of right now it seems safe to say that the tenth Apes film is well on its way to being another massive success, scoring the second highest opening of the franchise behind 2014's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Apes stronger together, and so are audiences who keep turning up for new Apes movies!

This is all especially impressive considering the challenge that Kingdom had in front of it. The previous trilogy of Apes movies told the complete story of Caesar, the first ape leader played by motion capture acting pioneer Andy Serkis. Kingdom takes place 300 years later, and introduces an ensemble of new characters who will carry the Apes series into its next adventure. At least that's the plan, and with box office numbers like these, there's a pretty good chance we'll get to see that plan come to fruition.

Kingdom is the Apes franchise debut for Wes Ball, the director who made his name with the trilogy of Maze Runner movies which ran from 2014 to 2018. But while the Maze Runner films were all mind-bending dystopian apocalypse movies, Kingdom is something very different. It's big and ambitious, with sprawling visuals and a cast of vividly realized ape characters who interact with the odd human in their midst (in this case, The Witcher's Freya Allan). It introduces multiple ape cultures, showing how their varied ideologies clash. In many ways, Ball's Apes debut gives us an advanced ape civilization closer to the one we saw in the original 1968 film than anything we've seen since; in others, it's fresh and lively and closer in tone to one of James Cameron's Avatar movies than it is to its dark, often brooding older Apes films.

Despite all that, I found myself thinking not as much about the other Apes films as I watched Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes as I did about Wes Ball's other big upcoming project: The Legend of Zelda. Yes, in case you've forgotten or hadn't heard, Wes Ball will direct a live-action Legend of Zelda movie in the works from Nintendo and Arad Productions. And after seeing Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, I'm thoroughly convinced that he's the right person for the job.

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The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom /

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes and The Legend of Zelda have a lot in common

Similar to Planet of the Apes, The Legend of Zelda is a long-running franchise that spans decades. The first Zelda video game came out way back in 1986 for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. There have been many iterations of Zelda since then, but the story always stays more or less the same: a young hero named Link must traverse the fantastical kingdom of Hyrule, battling the forces of the malevolent villain Ganon in order to save the Princess Zelda, and in doing so save the world. Part of Zelda's charm is in how it reinvents this story time and again, while always providing enough familiarity and charm that long-time fans get warm fuzzies with each new adventure.

Like many Zelda fans, I've been equal parts intrigued and nervous by the prospect of a live-action Zelda movie. Video game adaptations are on the rise, but Zelda is about as sacred as game franchises get; mess this thing up, and you'll upset a lot of people. It has a very particular style, as well as some very specific adaptation challenges — such as the fact that its hero, Link, very famously does not talk at all in the games, the better to allow the player to project themselves onto him. Does the movie do away with that and make Link a wise-cracking swordmaster? Or does it stick to the (non-existent) script, and make Link a mute hero who could be any of us? This is one of the many questions The Legend of Zelda adaptation will have to answer.

While the Zelda games do vary somewhat in tone and art style, I couldn't help but notice some similarities between Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes and the most recent run of phenomenally successful Zelda games: 2017's Breath of the Wild and its direct sequel,Tears of the Kingdom (2023). Those games revel in the natural beauty of Hyrule, evoking a style at times reminiscent of the Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke as Link fights beasties, moblins (the Zelda equivalent of goblins), ancient machines and other creatures throughout the wilderness.

I thought of Tears of the Kingdom more than once while watching Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, especially during the scenes which explore the breathtaking Eagle Clan village early in the film. That village looks like it could be something out of Zelda. Take out the apes and insert members of any of Zelda's myriad fantasy races, and I would have believed that's what I was watching.

Speaking of fantasy races, Zelda has a few of them which will almost certainly be realized onscreen in the movie. There's the aquatic Zora, the mountain-dwelling rock people called the Goron, the desert-dwelling Gerudo tribe, and the avian Rito. We may not see all of them in the live-action movie, but I'd bet on at least seeing a few.

With Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, Ball has shown how adept he is at directing a big-budget fantastical adventure movie that features lots of non-human characters. That's a very particular sort of skill, and not one which every director has. Before Kingdom, Ball got his start with the animated short film Ruin, before going on to work with world-renowned visual effects company Wētā on both the Maze Runner movies and tests for an animated adaptation of the Image comic Mouse Guard, which Andy Serkis was tapped to star in. Mouse Guard fell through when 20th Century Studios was acquired by Disney (which in turn paved the way for Ball to helm the next Apes movie), but the experience remains, and Ball credits that experience with helping him wrangle all the different visual elements of Kingdom.

"To some degree, yeah. For sure. It probably helps a lot that I also have a background in visual effects," Ball responded to The Hollywood Reporter, when asked whether his ongoing relationship with Wētā helped during the production of Kingdom. "That’s such a key part of this process, and to be able to speak the language made it a little bit easier for them. I can find those compromises as well, and that’s ultimately what a director does: problem solve and compromise. And so to find those things and get the biggest bang for your buck is key when you’re wielding this really powerful tool of visual effects, especially for a movie like this where the visual effects are literally up in your face as part of the experience. So that probably all helped. I’ve made three-and-a-half movies with them now, because Mouse Guard got close, but I can’t say enough about Wētā. They’re the best in the world at what they do, and it’s humbling to work with these people. They’re not just technicians; they’re artists and storytellers. So I couldn’t have made this movie without them, period. No one else could do this."

The results speak for themselves. The apes in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes are magnificently realized with brilliant performances and top-notch visual effects that allow for wide ranges of expression. Many of them have fairly restricted dialogue, relying much more on physical performances to convey emotion. That strikes me as something which would be very helpful when producing a Zelda movie with all its different characters and fantasy creatures.

(L-R): Raka (played by Peter Macon), Noa (played by Owen Teague) , and Freya Allan as Nova in 20th Century Studios' KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved. /

What's a hero without a grand adventure?

There's another element of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes which makes me think Ball is a perfect fit for Zelda: the tone. Planet of the Apes is one of the most wildly varied franchises in science fiction; from the '70s sitcom-style Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) to the shockingly dark examination of racism in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) to the deep character study of the Caesar trilogy that began with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, the Apes movies are all very different from one another.

Of all the Apes films, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is the one that feels the most like a grand adventure movie. Noa (Owen Teague) goes on a hero's journey to save his people after they're kidnapped by a neighboring clan of apes, which leads him to stunning locales and puts him into contact with a broad cast of characters who help or hinder the quest. This is a pretty big departure from how the Apes movies are usually structured; they often lean much more on thought-provoking sci-fi ideas over a typical quest. I would never in a million years have thought to compare a Planet of the Apes movie to The Legend of Zelda, but if any one of these films bears a resemblance to Link's adventures in Hyrule, it is undoubtedly Kingdom.

That's not to say Kingdom doesn't still have that Apes DNA. Noa's quest allows for a great thematic study of how religion and ideals can be twisted or upheld by future generations, thanks to the looming shadow cast by Andy Serkis' Caesar and a brilliant performance by Kevin Durand's wannabe dictator Proximus Caesar. It also asks questions about whether two intelligent species can ever truly coexist on Earth, through Noa's complicated friendship with the human Mae (Freya Allan).

Walking that line between fantastical adventure and thought-provoking Apes flick could have so easily gone wrong, but Ball and his team managed to pull it off spectacularly. There's a feeling that they didn't just come into Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes to do something different from what came before, but also to honor the series as a whole. That's the sort of conscientiousness that will be really important for The Legend of Zelda adaptation, with its decades of source material to draw from.

After seeing Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, I'm finally more excited to see what Ball does with The Legend of Zelda than I am nervous. Yes, there are still any number of ways it could go wrong, but that was true for Kingdom too and here we are. Here's hoping Link and Zelda have as good of luck on screen as Noa and Mae.

Director Wes Ball on the set of 20th Century Studios' KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo by Jasin Boland. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved. /

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes sequel and Zelda — Can Wes Ball do both?

There's one last angle to this that's worth considering. As of this writing, we know for a fact that Wes Ball is working on The Legend of Zelda; it was part of the official announcement that the film was being made, and Ball has been candid about the fact that he's working on it. However, we don't know that he'll be returning for a sequel to Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. Producers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have a plan for nine Apes movies in the reboot series; Kingdom is number four. So we know that more Apes films are planned, but with Ball committed to Zelda, it raises questions about whether it will be him or someone else who shepherds Noa and Mae into their next movie.

When asked by Variety about how many more movies Ball might want to do with his Apes characters, he replied that, "[T]hree is a good number." As for how he can make that work with Zelda, he doesn't sound too worried: "It's a good problem to have."

"My first three movies were a trilogy, so I know what it means to go into that and devote yourself for so long. I’ve got a lot to think about. I think there’s room for both, of course. But it all comes down to story and script. So we’ll see where it goes. Like I said, it’s a good problem to have. I’m honored to have the opportunities before me, such amazing projects to be a part of. But certainly I wouldn’t turn anything down."

Until a Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes sequel is announced and details about who will direct it revealed, we'll just have to wait and see how it all shakes out. In the meantime, Ball is already at work on The Legend of Zelda. It seems very possible that even if an Apes sequel is greenlit, we may get to see Zelda first.

"We're working on it. I think it's gonna be great," Ball told The Direct. "Fans are gonna be happy. Legend of Zelda to me, is one of the most important things ever in my life. You know, next to Star Wars. I've played Legend of Zelda throughout my childhood into my adulthood. You know what I mean? I am a fan. I am a fellow fan. I will go to the ends of the earth to make sure that it is the movie we all hope it will be."

Sounds to me like the sort of proclamation a hero might make in Hyrule! Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is playing now in theaters, and very much worth a watch if you want to start imagining what Wes Ball's The Legend of Zelda might be like on the big screen.

All 10 Planet of the Apes movies, ranked from worst to best. dark. Next. All 10 Planet of the Apes movies, ranked from worst to best

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