Take a Drink: for heavy-handed metaphors
Take a Drink: whenever the movie straight-up tells you what it’s about
Take a Drink: whenever humans do something dystopian
Take a Drink: “No!”
Take a Drink: for civil disobedience
Do a Shot: for sexy ape glances
By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
After the effective reboot of the franchise in its predecessor, the stage was set for Conquest of the Planet of the Apes to be The Empire Strikes Back of the sequels, the darkest, most daring yet. Well… kinda.
I’l let you decide if ape seduction qualifies.
Twenty years after the last film, Ricardo Montalban’s circus owner brings his young ape charge Caesar (Roddy McDowall) to Los Angeles. While there, we discover that apes have been gradually enslaved and forced to serve humanity, controlled by the authoritarian Ape Control. When they are separated, Caesar must impersonate a servant ape so Ape Control doesn’t learn he’s the real son of Zira and Cornelius, an intelligent ape that could sew the seeds of humanity’s demise. Witnessing the deplorable treatment of his fellow apes firsthand, Caesar proceeds to do just that.
Conquest admittedly starts a little rough, but at least we have Montalban’s dulcet tones to carry us through. It’s only when Caesar’s pushed into this dystopian society, and particularly when those seeds of revolution are planted, that the film really takes off. There’s plenty of subtext to consider- immigration, race relations, slave imagery, and the presence of an aloof but decent human in MacDonald (prominent African-American writer Hari Rhodes), disappointed and embittered by the treatment of his own ancestors, deepens that subject beyond surface-level metaphor.
Yup, he was as badass as he looked
Series newcomer J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navaronne) add some nice directorial flourishes, particularly his use of color and inventive approach to ape “conditioning”, and the sharp-lined concrete jungle of 1970s L.A. is the perfect dystopian setting. Roddy McDowall steps out of Kim Hunter’s shadow in his new role of Caesar, full of wonder which quickly becomes betrayal, rage, and determination. Don Murray also turns in a suitably chilling performance as Governor Breck, the most dastardly villain in the series.
As usual, though, a brilliantly pessimistic ending elevates the film, If there’s one thing this series does right, it’s nailing the landing, and the uber-violent prison revolt that wraps things up, and how Caesar’s final decision perpetuates the cycles of violence, is as impactful as the series has managed, and probably should’ve been the capstone for the whole franchise.
Wow, exposition much? The beginning, where the circus ringleader explains to Caesar the whole plot of the series up to now, which he somehow hasn’t heard yet, benefits from Montalban’s soothing Spanish voice, but is still cringe-inducing.
Even more on the nose are the uniforms of the Ape Control.
Hmm, wonder what they’re going for here…
That’s not the only metaphor that’s ridiculously heavy-handed. Oh, and has Ape Control completely replaced the police and military? Sure seems so.
There’s a big, unexplained leap in between acts. Caesar goes from yelling to the heavens to being in the midst of leading a full-blown resistance movement at the drop of a hat. How’d he organize all of the non-speaking apes? How does he even communicate with them?
Conquest starts off the shakiest entry in the series to date, but recovers with a ballsy, pitch black ending that feels like a natural finale for the entire franchise.