Beneath the Planet of the Apes was a hard act to follow. Not least because the entire planet was destroyed at the end. The fact this film isn’t called Floating Space Rubble of the Planet of the Apes is enough to make you wonder what happens next.
Helpfully it turns out that after the humans left them in Beneath, our two main good apes (Zika and Cornelius – played by Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowell) got into Taylor’s restored ship and left the planet to protect Zika’s unborn child from the escalating conflict. The blast from the Alpha Omega bomb sent them backwards through time to the late 60s, just two years after Taylor first left earth. Luckily they land in US waters, otherwise there would have been a confusing language barrier between the apes and humans.
As with the prequels, the apes are the best characters here. Hunter and McDowell bring the same sincerity to their performances that helped us overlook the silliness in the first two films. It’s actually quite a nice story of a simple family of super-smart chimps trying to make their way in the world. And particular credit goes to the make-up on the baby which played the newborn chimpanzee. It looks even more like a chimp than the adults.
True to the previous films in the franchise, it’s rendered almost unwatchable by how badly plotted it is. It’s not just that characters know information they haven’t been told, or the leaps of logic we are expected to accept. It’s the rationale that’s employed to move the plot along. The humans decide that in the future apes will destroy the world, so they must destroy the apes that came back in time. But these apes didn’t cause the war, they escaped from it. It’s like if Sarah Connor killed Kyle Reese to prevent the war in the future. If anything their presence there is changing a sequence of events certain to lead to the destruction of the world, so eliminating them and keeping that timeline in-tact can only increase the liklihood of the world being destroyed. And this is before we get into the fact that it would clearly be advantageous to mine the apes for every bit of information possible to try and prevent catastrophe – the logical thing to do.
The reason the humans decide this is to give the film conflict, so it’s not just about some apes going back in time. But why could they have not had a threat from religious fanatics who condemn the talking apes as against God? Or by someone who actually wants to bring about the end of the world? Or even a foreign military power that believes the US might use their knowledge of the future for tactical advantage? None of this is thought through, leaving us with another flimsy Apes film.
The film’s strengths are, again, those it has in common with the other films – the fact it takes the franchise in another left-field turning, and its bleak, twist ending. These features make it stand out from other franchises, but also provide one reason why it’s never been as loved as more life-affirming fare. Once again there are some decent sci-fi ideas, but it fails in the execution. This has more heart than its immeadiate predecessor thanks in part to the performances of its main actors and its focus on them rather than a war we don’t quite understand. But there’s just not enough plot or excitement to last, and as such it lingers between stupid and boring.