And so, we reach the end of the original series of Planet of the Apes films. Battle for the Planet of the Apes was the cheapest of the Apes films and most critics agree that it’s also the worst. Sad to say, I happen to agree with them. If nothing else, Battle For The Planet of the Apes is the only one of the original Apes films that fails to even reach the meager level of quality of Tim Burton’s remake.
The film begins a decade after the end of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. A nuclear war has destroyed what was left of human society. It’s never made clear if that war was between apes and human or between humans and humans. All that is clear is that the Apes are now firmly in charge of the world. Caesar (Roddy McDowall) leads the Apes civilization. Humans, while clearly second class citizens, are treated relatively well by the Apes. Early on in the film, Caesar views archival footage of his parents and learns of what the future holds. He immediately makes move to try to prevent that future from occurring.
However, all is not well. Gorilla general Aldo (Claude Akins) hates humans and is secretly plotting a military coup to overthrow Caesar. Meanwhile, over in the Forbidden City (a.k.a. New York), there’s a tribe of radiation-scarred humans who are being led by Kolp (Severn Darden), the sadistic torturer from Conquest of The Planet of the Apes. Driven mad by the ravages of war, Kolp and his followers are plotting to launch their own last-ditch attack on Caesar and the apes.
So much of this film can be legitimately criticized, from the cheap look (the apes are no longer characters but instead just actors in rubber masks) to the predictable storyline. So, instead of focusing on what’s wrong with this film, I’m going to highlight the handful things that actually did work. While few of the performers make any effort to invest their characters with any sort of life, both McDowall and Darden give strong performances. Darden, in particular, makes a great villain and it’s a shame that he didn’t get a better film in which to show off. Predictable as the film is, there’s a few memorable touches, my favorite being Kolp and his followers converting a bunch of school busses into armored attack vehicules.
As well, Battle for the Planet of the Apes may ultimately feel like an unnecessary chapter in the whole Planet of the Apes saga but the film, at the very least, makes the effort to provide some sort of continuity with the other films in the series. Kolp and his followers are obviously meant to be the ancestors of the bomb-worshipping mutants from Beneath the Planet of the Apes and, in one of my favorite little touches, Kolp’s assistant is named Mendez. If you’ll remember, the leader of the mutants in Beneath was named Mendez the Tenth.
It’s those little touches that show that the filmmakers, at the very least, respected their viewers enough to maintain the continuity of the series. As bad a film as Battle is (and it’s definitely not very good), it can still teach a valuable lesson to today’s filmmakers.