Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes Easter Egg Is the Best Callback to the 1968 Movie Yet

Of course, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes nods to the original film, while also telling the audience to stop looking for easter eggs and references.

Freya Allan as Nova in 20th Century Studios' KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: 20th Century Studios.

This article contains spoilers for Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.

At the end of Planet of the Apes, the human astronaut who strove to understand the strange, simian-occupied planet made a shocking discovery. Horror overwhelms him as he struggles to make sense of the honored American monument before him, now barely recognizable.

Of course, that description can refer to the twist ending of the 1968 sci-fi classic, in which Charlton Heston falls on his knees at the sight of a decimated Statue of Liberty, realizing that he has been on a post-nuclear Earth the whole time. However, it also describes the less loved 2001 Planet of the Apes, directed by Tim Burton. In that film, Mark Wahlberg’s astronaut makes it back to the past only to find an ape version of the Lincoln Monument.

On a narrative level, the ending of 2001 Apes makes no sense, not even to Burton. But the explanation for the Lincoln reveal is obvious. The 2001 movie is calling back to the 1968 film.

Ad – content continues below

Although much better than Burton’s outing, the modern Apes franchise that started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes has plenty of nods to the original, complete with a charge against a “damn dirty ape.” But the funniest and most effective callback of all may be found in the latest entry, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.

Throughout the film, young Chimp Noa of the Eagle Tribe has encountered a human woman (Owen Teague). Like most apes, Noa dismisses the woman as a nuisance, an unspeaking example of what he calls “Echoes.” Noa’s views start to change through the teachings of the wise Orangutang Raka (Peter Macon), whose faith in Caesar compels him to treat them with mercy. That kindness emboldens the woman to get close to Raka and Noa, allowing them to see her in full.

With joy in his eyes and the score rising, Raka declares, “We shall call her… Nova.” Director Wes Ball allows a pause after Raka’s statement, allowing the audience to take in what they have just heard. “Nova” is of course the name of the feral human woman played by Linda Harrison in the 1968 movie, who is befriended and named by Heston’s Taylor. The space allows audience members to nod in recognition, to feel good about the connection between the two films, or explain the line to their watching partners (whether they want to or not).

But no sooner does the familiarity set in than Raka continues. “We call them all ‘Nova,'” he says with resignation. “I don’t know why. It must be something from Caesar’s time.”

First of all, we must acknowledge that this is a very funny joke. Following the style of the other modern Planet of the Apes movies, screenwriter Josh Friedman favors big literary and Biblical allusions that aid philosophical arguments about the nature of society. This isn’t to say that Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is completely devoid of humor (it is, after all, a movie about talking chimps). But it is capital “S” serious science fiction.

In fact, the “Nova” gag serves two important functions. When Raka attributes the naming convention to “Caesar’s time,” he continues the practice of misremembering the past, which both he and the villain Proximus (Kevin Durand) do as they deify Caesar. Although relatively harmless, suggesting that Caesar gave all human women the name Nova only reminds the viewers that interpretation comes less from first-hand knowledge and more from individual interpretation.

Ad – content continues below

However, on a more functional level, the joke puts callbacks into perspective.

In this era of constant remakes, sequels, and legacy sequels, references and callbacks have become an expected part of modern blockbusters. And in almost every single instance, they’re terrible.

Why in the world does Batman walk into the cave and say, “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts” in The Flash? Why would John Harrison shout his name “Khan” in Star Trek Into Darkness, even though that means nothing to this version of Kirk and Spock? Why does at least one character in every Terminator movie need to say “I’ll be back” or “Come with me if you want to live”?

The answer is simple. The audience expects them. The callbacks are ways to flatter the audience’s ability to recognize things they know. It’s the equivalent of a hipster t-shirt for a band “you’ve probably never heard of,” even though the wearer really, really wants you to have heard of the band and acknowledge their great taste.

To be sure, references can be powerful, as when they reframe a familiar line in a new and exciting context. Surprisingly, just such an example occurs in the 2001 Planet of the Apes. When Charlton Heston repeats his famous line “Damn them all to Hell” for that movie, this time as an aged ape talking about a gun, the line regains a power lost since it was used to describe a nuclear weapon—not least of which because of Heston’s role in the NRA.

However, these are outliers. In most cases, even harmless references clang and distract. When Tom Felton’s character gets overwhelmed by the hooting apes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, he shouts, “It’s a madhouse! A madhouse!” The line is nothing like the authentic expression of a real character and exactly like a movie quote. Which, of course, it is.

Ad – content continues below

When Raka pauses after stating the name “Nova,” he lets the audience have their self-satisfied moment. But then he crushes that sense of superiority by dismissing the reference as unimportant outside of its role in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. In other words, it tells the audience to stop looking elsewhere for meaning and enjoy the movie itself.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is in theaters now.