Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Pretty dramatic, huh?!? I should totally do voiceover work.
It has been 12 years since the highly intelligent, thoughtful talking chimp, Caesar (Roddy McDowall) led the bloody revolt that gained apes -- the chimps, orangutans, and gorillas -- their freedom from their cruel human masters. It was a revolt that set off a chain reaction, countries and cities turning on each other, nuclear weapons wiping whole cities off the face of the Earth. Caesar and a small community of apes and humans manage to escape the destruction, building a city in the wilderness and starting their own civilization of sorts. It is a tenuous situation though, Caesar dealing with the apes' control over the humans, an ape general, Aldo (Claude Akins), eager to gain power, and the possibility of another group of human survivors -- mutated beings -- invading his territory. Can he hold it all together?
I've long been a fan of the Planet of the Apes series so it's been fun catching up with the series, especially watching all five movies straight through for the first time ever. It's cool to see the continuity among the five flicks, see recurring characters, recurring stories and plotlines. This fifth entry, from director J. Lee Thompson (who also directed Conquest), was released as part of the collection as an 'Extended Version,' running 93 minutes with about 10 minutes of additional footage reinserted. Not going to lie here, I was kinda disappointed with this final entry. There are positives -- more in that department later -- but there are also far too many negatives. The story seems like a jumbled collection of the previous storylines -- especially Beneath and Conquest -- and doesn't create enough of its own identity. Fans of the series will definitely enjoy it, but as far as series finales go, this one could have been better.
What are the biggest issues? Well, the script for starters. Reading about the Extended Cut (with spoilers), it's cool to see what footage was added back into the movie. Some scenes work better than others, some lack any rhythm or pacing. The exploration of the bombed-out city should be adrenaline-pumping, but the build-up is slow that it loses any momentum. It also seems thrown together for the sake of a sequel, an unnecessary one at that. It's only 12 years since the end of 'Conquest,' but the apes speak clearly and perfectly understandable. A whole species learns to speak in a little over a decade? Why did the humans go with the apes? Was it for survival? A whole sub-culture comes together so quickly, rushed backstory like the entire movie. There are portions that work as it tries to connect and wrap up with the rest of the series, especially the connection to Beneath, the villain, Governor Kolp (Severn Dearden), having an assistant, Mendez (Paul Stevens), the same name as the leader of the mutants in Beneath, the Alpha bomb there too. Little touches like that are pretty cool, especially for nerds like me
The biggest positive is the face of the franchise right there with Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, who starred in four of the five movies playing two different roles. His Caesar is the intelligent, thoughtful leader of the ape civilization, juggling countless roles. He's a leader, a father, a friend, and he's got to keep all the plates spinning at once. McDowall is the heart of it all, and not surprisingly, he kills the part. He is the link through it all, the best aspect of the character being his interest, his curiosity about his past. What were his parents like? How did they end up on a human-ruled Earth? What led to their tragic deaths? As a family man, we meet his wife, Lisa (Natalie Trundy, who also starred in four Ape movies), and his teenage son, Cornelius (Bobby Porter), who just wants to be a kid, Caesar doing his best to make his son's life smooth and easy. Any issues the movie may have, McDowall is above it. A fitting lead performance to wrap things up.
The rest of the cast is okay, some solid names, some recognizable faces, but nothing really eye-popping. Akins hams it up like a crazy person, his General Aldo really just a child in a position of power. He's the polar opposite of Caesar, fiery and emotional, but an action he takes certainly takes drives the story forward. For some of the other key ape performances, Lew Ayres is a scene-stealer as Mandemus, the senior citizen ape placed in charge of the armory, his logical thinking tripping everyone up, and Paul Williams as Virgil, the intellectual, the thinker who plays Devil's Advocate to just about everything Caesar does, but in a helpful fashion. Austin Stoker plays MacDonald, the face of the human group living with the apes. He has a good chemistry with McDowall's Caesar in their scenes together in an underused part.
I don't know. I came away disappointed. Maybe it tries to do too much, maybe it's just not very good. If you're a fan of the series, you've got to see it to wrap things up. There, plain and simple. It lacks that special something to hold it all together. A framing device with John Huston making a quick appearance as the Lawgiver tries to show that the Apes timeline can and should be adjusted, but everything else in the series seems to suggest otherwise. If it didn't, everything would collapse in on itself in the space time continuum. Yeah, time travel analysis. Didn't see that coming, did you?!? Watch it for the series, for the sci-fi aspect, just enough positives in a movie that lacked some energy. Still, it's been a hugely entertaining series, a fun ride over five movies. Thanks to the girlfriend for the Christmas present. Now, I've just gotta get her to watch them...
Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973): ** 1/2 /****