The first “Planet of the Apes” at least attempted to be a little bit more than stock corny science fiction. It’s sequel, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” completely descends into the realm of corny sci-fi, such in the vein of the original “Star Trek” series but without any of the grand themes of the quest for knowledge. This time we are provided with a new hero who looks deceptively like George Taylor (Charlton Heston) from the first movie, to the extent that when I first saw him I was genuinely confused as to what was happening and whether what I was seeing was a flashback. The gusto the original had just isn’t in this half-hearted sequel and it’s unfortunate to watch the originality (Yes I’m aware it wasn’t an original screenplay) of the first film get suddenly marred with the curse of the generic. It doesn’t bode all that well for the rest of the series and I am certainly less excited about viewing all of them, oh well.
The introduction reuses scenes from the end of the last movie. Taylor ventures on with Nova (Linda Harrison) and disappears when he is seemingly engulfed by a non-corporeal wall. Meanwhile Brent (James Franciscus) manages to crash land on the planet, like Taylor before him, as a less than desirable result of following Taylor on his rescue mission. After the death of his crew mate Skipper (Tod Andrews) he decides to venture on into the unknown. Quickly he stumbles upon what is by this point a familiar setting to us but a complete oddity for Brent, the city of the apes. Cornelius (now played by Don Pedro Colley) and Zira (Kim Hunter) are still here and are still taking issue with Dr Zaius’ (Maurice Evans) policies as essentially the minister of science and the minister of faith, which unsurprisingly contradict one another fairly often. The gorillas are introduced as a war like branch of apes that are generally less intelligent and better suited to being soldiers. Ursus (James Gregory) is the leader of the gorillas and he very much reflects this typecast, quickly leading the gorillas and Dr Zaius into the forbidden zone to search for the life that Taylor spoke of. The rest of the story involves a mixture of Brent escaping from captivity and trying to find Taylor with the help of Nova.
Brent is a very average character, Taylor is a far more interesting character by default and is made only better by Charlton Heston’s superior acting ability. What made Taylor interesting was that he was flawed and was essentially a representative for modern day humanity without even realising it. He had flaws but was still likeable and maybe that’s because his flaws were human. Brent is just your typical hero, he is physically well built and never says anything wrong or does anything to hurt anybody (willingly) and he just feels like a really muted replacement for Heston. Maybe this is why the action sequences feel far less relevant this time. I don’t care if he gets caught by the apes and I don’t care what they’d do to him if they did, which just turns them into boring “wait for the punches to stop flying” segments, but at least they don’t last for too long.
The pacing feels very average too. Things get moving fast enough and objectives get accomplished before things get really boring, but I was never compelled as to what Brent might find next, the world of the apes was discovered in the last film and little more that I care about is discovered here. That said, there are a few crazy things discovered (like the explanation to that wall Taylor disappeared into) but they actually do lead to boring revelations and encounters. For example a scene in which Taylor communicates with creatures that don’t use words but instead use telepathy to communicate (even though they are perfectly capable of talking). Brent has to answer questions we can’t actually hear and the dialogue is tailored to this and it feels quite artificial, the scene is prolonged to the point where it is no longer welcome. It’s only when we reach the last ten or so minutes that we get treated to some action that I actually cared about, for reasons that would be a spoiler to mention, and it is rather effective. I was a fan of the ending especially though, I think it was a good idea what they did with it and it honestly wasn’t what I expected from it. In a way it’s the sole reason I want to see the next movie just to see what they do with it, though I am bracing myself for things to drop off even more.
The movie’s not bad, it’s just average. It never stimulates you for good or for worse, I never wanted to rise from my chair to clap nor to make obscene gestures. The movie simply happened and it will leave few memories in my head for the years to come. Most upsetting is the fact that Taylor spends most of the film trying to get the human Nova to speak her first words. Hasn’t he realised that the human world ended AFTER women began to speak?
Whatever I was implying with that statement, I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me.