Yeah, then you'll also remember that in the director's cut, the film pretty much ended there. However, you'll also remember that in the theatrical cut of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (which should have been renamed Wuss-Out of the Planet of the Apes), he took it pretty much all back, instead espousing a desire for man to be dominated compassionately and for the world to live in peace and harmony. Awwwwwww.
TIME PERIOD: CIRCA EARLY 21ST CENTURY
Battle for the Planet of the Apes technically takes place in two time periods. The main chunk of the film happens sometime in the early 21st Century (there's no more specific date mentioned), but the film is bookended by an appearance from the Lawgiver, the creator of ape law who essentially tells the story in flashback. And yes, sadly Battle is a follow-on from the theatrical version of Conquest, and follows on from the hopeful nature of the sell-out ending of that movie. It's also worth noting that an extended cut of Battle exists, but is not included on the UK Blu-Ray set I'm watching from, so is not included for consideration.
So, Battle for the Planet of the Apes. After a brief introduction from the Lawgiver and a couple of flashbacks to the previous two films where we're told the planet was ravaged with war, we're away and introduced to the Ewok ape village where the surviving humans and apes live in relative harmony, with humans even teaching apes in makeshift schools. However, every school has a troublemaker and Ape High's Nelson Muntz is General Aldo, a (surprise surprise) gorilla who has a fierce hatred of humans, and doesn't really have time for chimps and orangutans either.
Aldo and his gorilla gang generally ride around causing mischief, but even they have to answer to Caesar, who is assisted here by his aide McDonald (the brother of the McDonald in the previous film). Caesar lives with his wife, Lisa (otherwise known as Mrs "No!" from the last film) and his son, Cornelius, who has a pet squirrel. Note the pet squirrel, it will later factor in on a big event in the film. It's worth noting in this film that - unlike the previous instalment - all the apes have the power of speech.
Now, Caesar is a bit of an idealist. He says that apes will live harmoniously till the end of time, and still doesn't trust humans or see them as equals. This irks McDonald, who decides to mention the fact that the apes will eventually destroy the earth in seventeen or so centuries. When asked how he knows this, he says that tapes exist of Caesar's mother and father - Zira and Cornelius - relaying this information. There's just one catch: they're in the dead city in the forbidden zone.
Caesar had long decided that ape and human alike should not be allowed to go to the city, but since he made the law, he thinks it's okay for him to break it and goes on an expedition to the ruins, along with McDonald and super-intelligent (even for these apes) orangutan Virgil. They get there pretty easily, and it's spectacular, tons of smashed buildings and burned cars and all the things you'd expect from a post-apocalyptic landscape. It's also a brilliant testament to the lost art of the matte painting, something which has been replaced in contemporary times by the digital matte, which can be done on Photoshop and look photoreal pretty easily, as opposed to someone actually trying to make a painting that can blend in with plates shot in real life (if anyone wants to look further into this, check out the work of Albert Whitlock, Peter and Harrison Ellenshaw, Ralph McQuarrie and Michael Pangrazio).
Caesar sees the tape of his parents, but also discovers the existence of something else: mutants living in the city, survivors of the bomb. They're not hugely malformed (at least not yet) but they're angry, especially as they're led by Governor Kolp, a part of the last administration who isn't happy to see his former city in ruins thanks to Caesar.
The apes (and human) escape, but not without their presence being noted by Kolp and the gang, who swear revenge. Meanwhile, back at the ape village, Aldo is trying to launch a coup in Caesar's absence, and is caught by Cornelius while monologuing to his men by the light of a campfire (unfortunately it isn't as romantic as that sounds). Cornelius scampers back up the tree he was hiding in, and to another, but Aldo cuts the branch down and he falls onto the floor. The apes scarper, and Lisa finds her son's body. But there is one crucial element missing, one that no one suspects: the squirrel.
You see, the squirrel is essentially responsible for Cornelius' misfortune, and inevitable death (this is totally forecast when Caesar and Cornelius have a chat before he leaves, and Cornelius asks for nuts for his squirrel. I am not making this shit up.) as the squirrel escapes his cage - actually I think the ape just left the door open - and Cornelius jumps out of the window after him, and then stumbles upon Aldo's ape jamboree.
So yes, Cornelius bites it, but not after the semi-mutants launch an attack on the village. Given that the Lawgiver is around at the beginning of the picture, it's not a massive spoiler to say that they don't achieve their goal, although it's fairly entertaining to watch. They get a bunch of jeeps and motorcycles and a school bus and arm them, and all wear silly goggles. The way they're defeated is relatively ingenious, in that they drive into an area where all the apes are lying dead and surround Caesar, only to be shocked when all the dead bodies get up and start attacking.
So, the half-mutants leg it pretty quickly, and Caesar even stops Virgil shooting at them even more. This act is empty however, as Aldo and his gang come along and slaughter most of the mutants. Aldo then tries to take over the village, but his coup is stopped by the revelation of his murder of Cornelius - breaking the most sacred law: ape shall not kill ape. After Aldo's gorillas snitch on him, he runs up a tree to be followed by Caesar, who then, um, kills Aldo. Again, for the second time in the film, Caesar breaks a law he made, because he's Caesar, and because Aldo killed his son, no one cares. If you're looking for a modern-day equivalent of this, perhaps 'I won't kill you but I don't have to save you' will ring a bell or two.
And so, Caesar and his camp decide to work together to make sure the rest of their days are harmonious as can be. The end. But wait, there's more. The Lawgiver returns with a bunch of human and ape children, showing that they did live happily ever after, at least for a bit. But the last shot is of a statue of Caesar, with a solitary tear running down its cheek.
After the raging revolution of the last film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes is a bit of a letdown really, although this mainly stems from the neutering of Conquest's climactic mantra. Because they made Caesar go back on his promise to make the humans his slaves, Battle's Caesar is a bit more peaceful. Well, a lot more peaceful, given that he spends most of the film trying to keep Aldo in check. Although, truth be told, Aldo is one of the best characters in the film. He's pure chaos and inevitability, and is there as a representation of what will potentially happen in the future, especially after Caesar discovers what his parents revealed.
He's also great fun. According to the documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes (which is also on the Blu-Ray box set and is ace), Arthur P. Jacobs and Fox went out to make this a kid's picture, hence why the violence is toned down and everyone is a little less anti-authority. Because of this, Aldo almost comes across like Dennis the Menace, and is always riding about just causing trouble because he has nothing better to do, therefore making parts of the film hilarious because it's all about Aldo's teenage antics. It's almost like Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em in places, with everyone just looking at him as if to say 'Oh, Aldo!'
And parts of the film really are funny, unfortunately only a few intentionally so. Caesar's going-away conversation with Cornelius teeters on the brink between awkwardness and parody, and the mention of the squirrel may send you into fits of laughter. Likewise, the faux-mutants are like a classic comedy troupe, especially in their oversized goggles and school bus, and it's like watching the Keystone Kops invading.
It's interesting watching the films in this order, as the semi-mutants kind of come out of nowhere, with no real grand reveal (as of course they expect us to remember them). But it's still jarring to see laidback-Caesar, as opposed to I'm-off-to-join-the-black-panthers-Caesar. McDowell as usual gives his all, even if the writing isn't up to it. It's worth noting that only the story was written by Paul Dehn, who wrote the scripts for the previous four movies, and the screenplay this time around was written by screenwriting pair Joyce and John Carrington, who had written The Omega Man and Scorsese's uneven Boxcar Bertha. It's not great, and the whole film just seems a bit languid and thin, even with Conquest director J. Lee Thompson back at the helm.
The acting all across is pretty good. Claude Akins rocks as Aldo, Natalie Trundy is good as the returning chimpanzee Lisa, and Paul Williams (aka Little Enos from Smokey and the Bandit and the guy who wrote 'The Rainbow Connection') is brilliant as super-orangutan scientist Virgil. However, the legendary John Huston fares less well as the Lawgiver, looking and sounding a bit awkard.
Incidentally, the final scene is a bit of a bone of contention. The tear that appears on the statue of Caesar was apparently meant by Thompson to be Caesar crying tears of joy at the thought of humans and apes peacefully coexisting, but Dehn meant it to be bittersweet, that the tear comes at a realisation that the apes and the humans will never come together as Caesar wishes. Given the nature of the series, this is probably the more likely interpretation, especially as it then gives creedence to the fact that, while this is a technicaly new timeline, there's no reason why in the centuries that follow, we won't see ape dominating man again, as originally seen.
Battle for the Planet of the Apes is alright, but not great and a massive comedown from the previous two pictures, and subsequently gets two and a half apes out of five. Next, we'll take a look at the movie that started it all as we make our first trip to the actual, proper Planet of the Apes!