Seen by Martin before? No
What did I expect? The last gasp of a franchise that had run its course.
What did I get? As always, the Planet of the Apes franchise continues to baffle me. Considering that it is the final movie in the original run, it would be natural to assume that Battle for the Planet of the Apes is an unholy mess. By a palpable distance, the readers of IMDB.com have judged it to be the weakest entry. The movie’s Wikipedia page is replete with tales of disappointment and frustration on the part of the filmmakers. The furthest thing from a die-hard fan, I confess that I cannot find all that much wrong with it — it’s a good deal superior to Conquest and about as good as Beneath and Escape.
Consider what Battle has going for it: The movie addresses an interesting topic — how it is that a revolutionary movement converts “success” into a legitimate governing regime based on common decency. Of the five movies, it is the one that, with the arguable exception of the original movie, most focuses on the ape civilization; Escape and Conquest especially are about the human society of the twentieth century, which makes them of comparatively slender interest. It showcases the most wide-ranging exploration of characters among the apes, and the (expanded) crew of actors embodying the apes probably does its finest collective work. Finally, of all the sequels, Battle is the one that is most like the much-revered original 1967 movie. What’s not to like?
To be sure, none of the above makes Battle a masterpiece. As with the others, its foregrounding of grandiloquent philosophizing results in internal self-contradiction, and motivation suffers as well. For instance, gorilla general Aldo’s every unsubtly bellicose action belies the premise that the apes have successfully subordinated their urge to kill to their utopian principles. Its dime-store social-commentary profundities are the unmistakable stamp of the scriptwriter of the original movie, Rod Serling, a writer who, not for nothing, found his greatest success in the nifty 30-minute conundrum-dramas he more or less invented; almost from the word go, the popularity of the Apes franchise — by the end of Battle clocking in at 486 minutes — stretched the logical underpinnings of the series to the breaking point.
Forced to find a place for itself in a by-now intolerably unwieldy chronology, Battle finds a safely unoccupied spot a scant twelve years after the irredentist ape triumph that closes Conquest. As in the far more profitable Jurassic Park, the humans generally seem a lot less lifelike than their nonhuman costars. The scenes involving the apes vaguely recall the urgent political intrigues of the first half of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; those involving humans usher in a mood of feckless irritation.
After a brief war, Julius’ chimp namesake is able to find a more-than-human commitment to pan-species brotherhood that we know lasts 600 more years — but, remembering the original movie, not 2,000 more years. A good try, anyway. The final, colossally stupid closeup shot is a fitting capper for a series that always incorporated too much sanctimonious gesture for its own good.
As we leave the Planet of the Apes movies behind us, at least until Tim Burton imposed his ambiguous stamp in our own era, a parting word. I’ve struggled with the popularity of this series, its unearned pretensions to wisdom, its uncanny feel for lurid allegory, but I found it all harder to dislike than I had expected. Every time I want to trash the thing, I call to mind its charmingly, inanely percussive soundtrack and the fervent efforts of its costumed hordes, and I pull back.
If you look up the character of Caesar in Wikipedia, this is what one finds under “Occupation”:
Say what you will, that arc is interesting. That list, I think, goes some way in explaining the enduring appeal of the Apes franchise: it was inherently dramatic, and it tackled huge themes: the rise and fall of civilizations, the shackles of biology, the temptations of authoritarianism, the technological hubris of man, the dismaying abuses of power, and on and on. Big, big themes. I’ll never really “get” the Apes movies, but from my comfortable perch on my side of a gaping chasm, I accord it a respectful nod.
What here smacks of 1973? Honestly, the inattention to continuity. After Star Wars, there’s no way they’d’ve gotten by with this stuff.
IMDB score: 5.2
My score: 6
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Writers: John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins, Natalie Trundy, Severn Darden, Lew Ayres, Paul Williams, Austin Stoker, Noah Keen, Richard Eastham, France Nuyen, Paul Stevens, Heather Lowe, Bobby Porter, Michael Stearns, Cal Wilson, Pat Cardi, John Landis, Andy Knight, John Huston
IMDB synopsis: After conquering the oppressive humans in “Conquest for the Planet of the Apes”, Caesar must now keep the peace among the humans and apes. Gorilla General Aldo views things differently, and tries to cause an ape civil war. In the meantime, other human survivors learn of the ape city, and decide they want to take back civilization for themselves, thus setting the stage of warring ape factions and humans.