Number four everyone, we’ve hit number four in a series that is slightly odd in its lack of consistency in quality. It’s gone good, to average, to good and now right back down to average again. I haven’t had the pleasure of ripping apart any of “The Planet of the Apes” films (yet) because they just haven’t gotten as bad as I expected them to. That still doesn’t make this one good, it’s just… passable. It’s one of those movies that is hard to review because I’m struggling to remember exactly what happened, it pulls all of it’s punches and ends up unremarkable and especially unmemorable.
1991 is when “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” is set and things have changed since last time. I regret somewhat saying in my review for “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” that I disliked that the human society didn’t correlate to the ape society like it is supposed to. Things have changed, apes are in slavery now and humans generally feel morally sound when they beat and torture their apes. The reason humans own apes now is because, as ridiculous as it sounds, a virus was transported to earth by the ape astronauts from the last film. Apes and humans were immune to this virus but cats and dogs were not, and were subsequently wiped out. Because of this, humans adopted apes as pets initially and then, when they realised how useful they were at mundane tasks, began to enslave them. Enter Caesar (Roddy McDowall, who also portrayed Caesar’s father oddly enough), the child of Zira and Cornelius who is now twenty years old after having been raised in the circus by Armando (Ricardo Montalban) and is the only known chimp on earth that is articulate. After he accidentally speaks out of rage he is forced to go into hiding among his fellow apes and is tortured and sold into slavery along the way. All before he goes on to develop a hatred for humanity and lead the ape revolution.
As the roles have truly switched for the apes this time, the movie has to do a little more to make me feel for the apes than just simply abuse them. “Planet of the Apes” could get away with not having a good main character (even though it did) because it made us feel sympathy for the human race. Not surprisingly that’s because we ourself are human and those emotions lend themselves quite nicely to our own kind, but we aren’t as inclined to feel that way about apes. What we see happen to the apes in this film is by no means trivial, they are tortured and even threatened with flame-throwers in an effort to reduce their fear of fire, but I just don’t have any strong negative feeling beyond “that’s a shame”. If Caesar was a character that I liked and empathised with then all it would take was the bare minimum effort of hurting someone I like to make me upset. Caesar, as you might have guessed, isn’t a strong character, and that’s a crucial mistake considering he’s the leader of the apes and also the main character of the entire film. Due to the fact that he is intelligent and being sought after as a result, he spends a majority of the movie not speaking because he can’t reveal himself. Makes sense, but other movies would have him talk to apes in some capacity but because they are all stupid that is also a no go. When he does speak there still isn’t enough sharp dialogue except for one speech near the end of the movie that I did enjoy for it’s severity.
The entire production just feels a lot limper than the other instalments. The music has lost its sense of epic struggle, ironically it chose the movie with the biggest epic struggle to do so in. The pacing is much poorer than any of the other films, so little actually happens throughout that I am amazed at what technological wizardry they did to get it to last for a good ninety minutes. It’s all so stale as well that I just sat and wondered where it was going half the time and when exactly this conquest that had been so cruelly waved in my face was going to occur, “not for a while” was the answer. The primary antagonist is also underwhelming and he literally feels like a traffic cone that talks dirty. He gets in the way, he can be very rude but also suffers from being a bloody traffic cone. He is merely an obstacle, not a genuine character that I love to hate.
I hear you, I do, I do. What of the pay off? The conquest that the movie is so affectionately named after. Surely it can redeem itself with some good old fashioned ape slaughtering human fun. I don’t know if you have picked up on this due to the excitement oozing out of my mouth, but no. It doesn’t. The final third of “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” is a series of prolonged action sequences with boring music and a camera that just relies on the subject as opposed to the angle. Just watching action isn’t usually fun unless its spectacularly choreographed (ape swan lake wasn’t a thing yet) so it’s up to the cinematographers to make it exciting. I’ll be fair, it isn’t especially bad, but it does just kind of happen. I don’t know fully whether anyone will understand what I’m getting at when I say that I just felt very passive when watching the fighting. That’s not an insult to your intelligence, that is an insult to my ability to articulate.
The very end of the film is impressive though. It’s something that should have been done earlier on. Dangling quality over our heads at the end of the film accomplishes little besides somewhat alleviating the dead taste left in your mouth. I don’t wholeheartedly condemn “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”, it is passable after all, but I can’t say I wholeheartedly recommend it either unless you are planning on watching the entire series, like I am.