The end of Escape from PotA was the kind of great ending that can never be left alone. It was an open ending, with the child of Cornelius & Zira living in secrecy, but we the audience could use our imaginations to fill in the gaps from that innocent child to the planet of Apes that Taylor arrives on. Of course, there's nothing Hollywood hates more than for an audience to use its imagination, and so we have Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.
The movie starts by jumping right in. There's no opening sequence, unlike the other films (I've since learned it was edited out to receive a lesser rating), we just start with Apes. There's a title card telling us "North America, 1991" and then the credits roll.
In this "future" 1991, Apes are domesticated pets. Well, actually, they're slaves. They started out as pets in 1983 when a terrible virus wiped out all cats and dogs. People needed companions, so they turned to apes. As they became more domesticated (and perhaps as a side-effect of surviving the virus), they grew in size and intelligence until they resemble what the audience recognizes as capital-A Apes. Except they still can't talk.
During these opening credits, we see hundreds of Apes being herded, trained, and domesticated. Some are already serving as assistants, janitors, and waiters. It's pretty intense. Amusingly, they even have human protesters who protest not the enslavement of apes, but the loss of their waitstaff and janitorial jobs.
Fortunately, the masks are much better looking than the ones seen in Beneath, though the really good make-up is saved for the characters with close-ups. They organize the Apes by species into colored uniforms: red for gorilla, yellow for orangutan, and green for chimpanzee. That's a nice little touch that ties it into the future classes and colorings of the original film.
Another thing about the future: everyone wears black and the architecture is smooth, angular concrete without any ornamentation. This is just and FYI, in case you need to blend in, in the year 1991.
After we're shown what the world has become, we're re-introduced to our heroes. Armando (Ricardo Montalban!) the circus owner tours the city with Milo, who is all grown up (and played by Roddy McDowell- Cornelius from the previous films). Only now his name is Caesar, not Milo. I guess it sounded better. There's a scene where he gets to pick his name out of a dictionary, so I thought maybe he chose to change it. But no, Armando clearly calls him Caesar in the early scenes. Oh well. Continuity has never been a high priority for these films.
Caesar is the only Ape who can talk, of course, so he must hide. Armando is captured by the bad guy of the film, Governor Breck. Breck seems to be evil just to be evil. He immediately suspects Armando of having a talking Ape, and tortures him to find it. His motivation isn't as clear as Hasslein's from the previous film. He talks about how he fears an Ape uprising, but it seems to me that would be inevitable. The way he treats Apes, they don't need Caesar to be angry.
Meanwhile, Caesar hides among the incoming Ape shipment, and so we get a thorough education of how badly Apes are treated. Slavery is cruel and evil. Got it.
Eventually, Caesar starts to organize the Apes, although this is never really explained. He goes to various places, hides in the shadows, then gives a fellow Ape "the look." Somehow, they all know what that means. They steal cutlery from the kitchen, steak knives when polishing, butane torches when welding beams. Eventually, they feel the time is right to riot.
The riot scenes are pretty frightening. At night, hundreds of angry Apes in red jumpsuits do not exactly put one at ease. The military is called, but there are just too many of them. They swarm the squads, take the base, and capture the governor. Caesar gives a rousing speech about how the humans will pay for the debasement of the Apes. He claims that Apes can communicate over vast distances, and that tomorrow this riotous scene will be duplicated around the world. Standing tall, leading his fellow Apes against a backdrop of burning buildings against the night sky, Caesar gives the order to destroy Governor Breck, and the gorillas use their guns to beat him to death. The end. Fade to black.
Or not. That ending seemed too pessimistic, and might have also given it a more restrictive rating, so they tacked on a few more minutes. At the very moment I describe above where it should have ended, a female chimpanzee struggles to utter the word, "No." Caesar hears it and changes his mind. He appends his speech with an extra paragraph about how instead, the Apes will be more "humane" than the humans. Rather than shoot new footage, they use close-ups of his eyes, and roll the film backwards to show the gorillas withdrawing their rifle butts. All the Apes still go crazy, the buildings still burn in the night, and the fade to black is accompanied by their screams as the credits roll until they fade to silence.
The one, three-letter word I've been using to start all these reviews is very appropriate here. Not only is this the most angry and aggressive of the Ape movies I've seen so far, but that's exactly how I feel about the edits. I realize that most people don't take the Ape movies seriously, but it would be nice if the filmmakers did. This movie is pretty one-note, talking about the horrors of slavery. Why soften it? The Apes are abused and oppressed, but when they get their just revolution, their violence is restricted. That double-standard bothered me.
I thought the movie was okay, but it didn't try to be very much. As I said at the beginning, it's just filling in the gaps our imaginations had already filled. There were no twists or reversals or reveals. Everything went along pretty much as we knew it would, so therefore it wasn't very surprising. But that doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't entertaining. It could have been much better if it had stuck to its ideals and been horrific not just for the slaves, but also the overturned masters.
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