Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and 1973's Battle for the Planet of the Apes. I've seen bits and pieces of both but never all the way through in one sitting. And away we go!
It's 1991 in North America, some 20 years since the talking apes, Zira and Cornelius, were murdered along with their baby...but it wasn't their baby. Things have changed around the world, a mysterious virus killing every single cat and dog on Earth, humans turning to apes/monkeys to be their pets. That changed quickly though, their mental capacities showing they're not so worthwhile as pets, but as slaves. It's been eight years, apes and chimpanzees used as janitors, delivery men, waiters and so many other tasks and jobs. That baby though that was supposed to have died? He didn't, and now he's 20 years old, still with loving-life Armando (Ricardo Montalban), who is now bringing the 20-year old intelligent, talking Caesar (Roddy McDowall) to the big city for the first time. Caesar is stunned and disgusted at what he finds, and when he becomes separated from Armando he's forced to adjust or reveal his secret.
Watching the Apes series in fairly quick succession, I've came away impressed. This fourth entry, this one from director J. Lee Thompson who had been in talks to direct the first movie, certainly qualifies. Is it a classic film? No, but fans of the series and science fiction in general will no doubt enjoy it. This series has impressed me because the original 1968 Planet of the Apes is a classic stand-alone science fiction film. It doesn't need any sequels. There are some questions we'd like more answers about, more background, but we know the truth, what really happened. Following the first sequel, 'Beneath,' the series found a way to survive and evolve -- whether intentionally or just lucking into it -- by bringing all five movies full circle. It's a nice touch, and each movie is different from its predecessor. Similar themes, tones, even some actors make it from movie to movie, but in an age of repetitive sequels, it's cool to see original, different sequels like this.
For this third sequel, there's a time jump.....into the future of 1991!!! 'Conquest' was filmed on location in Los Angeles at Century City, an appropriate, sparse and ultra-modern look for the visual of what Earth would have looked like in 1991....from a 1972 audience. Basically the entire story takes place in this one complex, the human rulers trying to limit and control the problems among the ape slaves. The apes are getting smarter, showing more initiative, being more disobedient. Add the very intelligent and very disgusted/motivated Caesar to the mix, and we've officially got an issue. There are points where things feel rushed in an 88-minute movie, another 10 minutes maybe fleshing it out some, but continuing what the series has laid out, this is a particularly dark, brutal story. What we see is even a tamed version of the original ending. It's not graphic (these movies were still considered "family movies") but the violence can be disturbing at times.
As has been the case for the first three movies, the key is the characters, whether they be heroes, villains or somewhere in between. That's what I found interesting here. Do we want to root for the evil, despicable humans who abuse slaves? Or do we root for the revolting apes to....wipe out mankind? Hhhhmmm, well, that's a toughie. It can be an uncomfortable movie to watch at times because of that dynamic. McDowall returns to the series, playing Cornelius' son (so technically his own) Caesar. It's a very good part for McDowall, fiery and angry, the match that sets off the explosion that's been waiting to happen. Hidden away from what society has become by Montalban's Armando, Caesar hasn't seen the darkness the world has to offer, until now. The rage inside him begins to grow and when he gets the proper motivation for revenge, he begins to planning the revolution, assembling and building, waiting for his time. A very good part for McDowall, especially his monologue in the final scene.
Again stealing the show is Montalban as the likable, charming and idealistic Armando, more Caesar's surrogate father than owner. It's not a huge part, but it is definitely a memorable one, Montalban again stealing all his scenes. Don Murray is nicely cast as Breck, the sadistic governor of the city, convinced that a talking ape is out there and hellbent on finding and killing him. Hari Rhodes plays his assistant, McDonald, an intelligent, thoughtful man, who has a bond of sorts with Caesar after they meet, and Severn Darden plays Breck's enforcer on his other shoulder, Kolp. Natalie Trundy continues her participation in the series, playing Lisa, a female ape, after already playing a mutant and a doctor in previous movies. John Randolph appears briefly in an update of a monologue he had in 'Escape' as well.
The portrayal of the future can be uncomfortable to watch at times. Breck and his fellow officials wear black and dark clothing, his soldiers wearing completely black uniforms that make them look like Nazi stormtroopers. The apes on the other hand wear green and orange jumpsuits, the color jumping off the screen. As I mentioned, I was surprised by how this story developed. The actual conquest in the final act of the movie is intense to say the least. The ending is startling, even if it was edited to be a little more tame. Still, I liked this sequel a lot and can't wait to see where the series goes in its finale. As well, it's hard not to notice how much this sequel inspired the Apes reboot, 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Just saying.
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972): ***/****