“Beneath the Planet of the Apes” was the first sequel to “Planet of the Apes” and my opinion of it was that of utter indifference. My biggest problem with it was the knowledge that the series had continued and that, as is usually the case, things could only get worse from here. I’m so genuinely happy to report that that’s not the case, “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” is no masterpiece, but it isn’t bad and is certainly above average with a suitable amount of new ideas resulting from it’s obvious attempt to genuinely shake up the franchise in an effort to make it fresh, and in some respects, they succeeded.
One of the best things about “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” is that the premise has changed. In fact they almost completely reversed it. In this instalment, Zira (Kim Hunter), Cornelius (Roddy Mcdowall has reprised the role once more) and Milo (Sal Mineo) crash land on earth in the time that was around two years after George Taylor’s departure. The shock wave from the doomsday bomb at the end of the last movie propelled the space ship, which had been salvaged by Milo, into the very distant past. Of course, this is the time when humans were still the dominant species so the humans are at first very hesitant about the apes. Dr Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman) wins the trust of the apes after Milo is savagely killed by a gorilla and helps get them accepted into the public and government eye. Zira and Cornelius realise that it is probably wise to withhold information regarding Zira’s inhumane experimentation on the human race in her time. The apes existence is revealed to the public and they live as high class citizens for perhaps a week or so. Dr Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden) eventually decides that he believes the apes to be more dangerous than they let on. Only causing even more problems is the revelation that Zira is pregnant and her baby is due soon.
The concept did excite me, I looked forward to seeing the other perspective, how the humans would deal with the apes and whether they would be more reasonable. I wasn’t expecting that to actually be the case though. What upset me about “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” initially was that the humans were far more humane to the apes than the apes were to Taylor and Brent in the first and second film. I was under the impression that “Planet of the Apes” was an allegory for the corruption of humans and the purpose of the more intelligent apes was for the humans, represented by Taylor, to be able to see their own corruption from the perspective of someone who could truly see it, a slave. I didn’t like that this one kind of ruined that by showing that we weren’t like the apes. Apparently we are nice enough to allow apes to stay in hotels and attend parties and even speak freely. You may recall Taylor being gagged in the first film just for trying to defend himself at a hearing. I stress again that I like the premiss of the film and its originality in an ageing series, but I don’t like when sequels actually contradict the films that came before it.
Ignoring that though, the events that unfold are quite entertaining. Cornelius is surprisingly funny, actually he’s hilarious at times. I felt quite often that I was actually watching a comedy and with good reason. Not only is it often humorous but the overall tone is far lighter than that of the earlier films. Slavery is no longer really a subtext and the apes attend parties and get drunk. When offered wine, Zira asks what it is, Dr Lewis replies “grapejuice plus” and Zira tries to gulp it down, just before she quickly decides that the grape is her favourite fruit. Is it a pleasant conversation to listen to? Yes, and it’s surprisingly entertaining even if it accomplishes very little in terms of moving the story along. Much of the film is made up of these conversations but the dialogue is just fresh enough that I never found myself bored of just listening to the apes converse with humans and exchanging cultural anecdotes. The film feels padded, especially when you realise that almost all of the key plot points happen in the final act, but it is basically the best padding you can buy. It’s like an asbestos pillow, it’ll eventually kill you, but damn if it isn’t warm.
The apes spend a majority of the movie not on the run so it isn’t bogged down by sub standard action like “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” was. Not having action this time around and instead replacing it with light comedy and a slow burning plot is a very refreshing change that prevents “The Planet of the Apes” franchise from becoming stale as the previous film prophesied, at least for now. When the action does inevitably start however, it is fairly light and I am very thankful to care about what the outcome is again. I wanted the apes to escape with the child, and therefore the chase scenes were compelling. If a movie inhibits my ability to give a crap, then I’m not going to give a crap, it’s funny how that one works.
By the end I had sufficiently enjoyed myself to the extent that I could ignore the fact that a nuclear warhead not only managed to propel the apes back in time, but also was apparently precise enough an instrument (as we know all nukes are) that it was able to send them back to almost exactly the time Taylor was alive in. “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” is definitely a corny sci-fi just like it’s predecessor and it never transcends that.
But you know, I kind of like corn.