WITH a new instalment in the lucrative re-born Planet Of the Apes franchise set for release in 2024, it’s worth remembering the last of the original Apes movie cycle that shuffled into view 50 long years ago.
When Battle For The Planet Of The Apes hit cinema screens in 1973, it was generally considered a sorry ending to a once proud series that had started with the hugely successful Planet Of The Apes in 1968.
While I wouldn’t dare suggest it comes anywhere near that much loved original, I would argue there’s plenty to enjoy in the fifth and final offering all the same.
Much like the film that preceded it, the cold and oddly fascistic Conquest Of the Planet Of The Apes, Battle is lumbered with a measly budget that renders it somewhat cheap and shoddy looking on the surface – but look beyond the slightly tatty visuals and there’s plenty to savour.
Conquest had been considered a little too serious and politically charged with its imagery of oppressive concrete tower blocks and almost Nazi style militarism, so Battle seeks to return the franchise to the more rural setting of that first film.
It tells the tale of Caesar (played by that great mainstay of the series, Roddy McDowall), the leader of the ape civilisation, overseeing a shaky peace agreement with the humans who by this stage are little more than servants to the highly evolved chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.
Caesar is living happily with his wife, Lisa, and their young child, Cornelius, but he can’t help wondering about what the future may hold for the apes he leads. When his human assistant MacDonald tells him that Caesar’s time travelling parents may have recorded their findings on the future onto video tapes left behind in the long-deserted Forbidden City, Caesar heads off to get some answers in the radioactive city with MacDonald and an orangutan cohort called Virgil.
While they find the tapes, they also find a gang of radiation-riddled humans led by the evil Governor Kolp. Making a dramatic escape, Caesar and company find their way back to their homeland only to discover that, while they were away, the gorillas led by General Aldo have rounded up all the humans and staged a coup that leaves their society on the brink of a civil war.
To add to their woes, those nasty radiation-infected humans also arrive to make a full-blown assault on Ape City.
The plot doesn’t always make sense and the lack of budget is hard to get past at times, as the rubber ape masks and restrained action sequences start to take their toll, but the concept of invasion and civil war was good enough to find a massive echo in the plot for the big budget Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes adventure that appeared in 2014, and the story draws a neat line under the original run of films rather effectively.
At 50 years old, Battle For The Planet Of The Apes remains an impressive slice of cinematic monkey business despite its many faults.