When it comes to long running film franchises, the sequels are usually spread out over a couple of years. But in the case of the “Planet of the Apes” series, there was a sequel released every single year, back to back. This began in 1970 with the release of the second film “Beneath the Planet of the Apes”, and the sequels followed one right after the other until the series ended in 1973. This has to be the most rushed film series of all time and when you rush your movie sequels like this, you usually end up with lesser movies that don’t feel complete and it isn’t any more apparent than in the fifth and final installment in the original Ape series line up titled “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”.
This film is often labeled as the weakest entry of the series but let’s see if that’s a fare statement. The movie begins with a recap of the events from both “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” and “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”, laying down all the important plot points that lead to the events in this film. After the ape Caesar lead the ape slaves in a revolution against their human oppressors, they retaliated with a nuclear strike that’s leveled all major cities on the planet. Twelve years have passed and now North America is a post-nuclear society. Caesar has now established his own small society of apes and humans that are coexisting together but the humans are regarded as second class. The setting is now in the woods as opposed to all the rock settings that the apes inhabited in the earlier installments, however their wearing their custom clothing again. Chimpanzees are in green, Orangutans are Orange and Gorilla’s are purple again.
Well, Caesar is feeling large and in charge, however, there’s a group of humans that still live in the fallen cities and are suffering from radiation poisoning. As you’d expect, their sick of living in ruins and have decided that it’s time to launch an attack on the apes to reclaim the planet as their own and if they fail, they’ll activate the doomsday bomb and begin the cycle all over again. The leader is another cartoony villain, this time with an appearance to match, he wears a big black coat and has bright red goggles to make him stand out. As if Caesar didn’t have enough problems on his hands, there’s also a gorilla general that plans to dethrone him, halt any chance of peace between apes and humans and then have every human on the planet executed. This Gorilla general is the hammiest and most over the top villain to appear in any of these movies, he lacks menace and the performance in nothing short of silly. Any way, we now have three parties ready to wage war in order to claim ruler ship of planet earth, or at least North America.
Once again, this sounds like a really cool setup with a lot more going on and a lot at stake, what can go wrong with this film? Well the problem once again just comes in the overall presentation, everything feels rushed, the editing can get really messy and annoying at times, the constant camera zooms and close-ups are especially annoying and the performances all feel tired, like none of the actors are invested in this. There’s a lot of things going on in the plot but very little is happening on screen, and it’s just so hard to get invested in these characters in any appreciable or emotional way. Roddy McDowall is back in the role of Caesar, making this his fourth time appearing in a “Planet of the Apes” movie. However, his performance is very hollow. The character Caesar is supposed to be this great ruler, who demands leadership, respect and fights for peace between warring spices but you never feel anything that strong, noble or commanding about him. He doesn’t do or say anything that demands authority, he just suggests things in a causal and boring tone. Not much to say about the other characters in the film, there’s a new orangutan character called Virgil who’s supposed to be Caesar’s best friend and confidant but he doesn’t amount to much either.
Whenever the movie has potential to be either interesting or emotional, it’s all pushed aside for action or more obstacles with the cartoony villains. There’s a subplot involving Caesar investigating the ruined city for video and audio recordings of his parents Cornelius and Zira to learn about the future of the world and avoid making the same mistakes his ancestors made that led to the inevitable destruction of the planet. Wow, this could be an interesting predicament, what does one do with such knowledge, how does one move forward to make a better life with such a terrifying truth revealed. Plus there’s a moment when Caesar states that this is an important moment for him to finally look upon the faces of his parents whom he’s never met. This could have led to a really emotional and powerful scene but it’s all brushed aside so quickly that the film actually seems to forget that either of these two plot points where ever brought up in the film. As the title would lead you to believe, the movie ends with a great big battle for dominance of the planet. It’s nothing jaw-dropping or impressive but there’s at least enough gun fire, explosions and battle vehicles to keep it mildly entertaining. I suppose it’s slightly cool because there’s never been any big scale action scenes in any of the previous films but that also serves as a reminder as to why most of them were better.
In the end, peace is established between humans and apes but the way this comes to be is ridiculous. Also, unlike all the other films, this one is told through flashback. Over 600 years, man and apes have lived together in peace and a character called the lawgiver is relaying this story to a group of children as the legend of Caesar, the great ape who brought peace between our two spices. Too bad we don’t see much of the joined cultures, what they’ve built and the great society they’ve achieved, in fact the only things we see in this epilog is a small group of ape and human children standing together and looking bored. We do at least get one good line when one of the kids asks “Who knows the future?” to which the Lawgiver responds by saying, “Perhaps, only the dead”. Then the movie ends on what has got to be the strangest moment of the entire series. We get a close up of a statue of Caesar and a single tear drop falling from one eye. What the heck is that all about? This isn’t a vision or a dream interpreted by another character, no, this statue is really crying, despite the fact that it’s not a living creature and has no emotional barring. I honestly don’t know what else I can say about that, I think it speaks for itself.
Overall, I don’t think “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” is the worst movie sequel ever made, I don’t even think it’s the worst of the series, it just isn’t that good. The plot and elements in the story could have been something really exciting but it all feels generic and rushed, almost like the filmmakers just wanted to hurry up and finish this series. It just needed more time to tell a more meaningful story and certainly could have benefitted from stronger performances. I’ll at least give this cast a small bit of credit, it must have been really difficult to act in very heavy and hot ape makeup in extremely warm locations like the ones featured in the film, but I’ve also seen some really impressive performances come from actors in even harder situations. It’s not a great conclusion to a long running franchise but I’ve certainly seen worse, so I’ll just sum this film up as mediocre entertainment at best. I give “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” 2 stars out of five.