After the tragic events of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, the producers needed to find a way to keep the series going. That all came down to the mind of Apes screenwriter Paul Dehn who had been steering the series since the first sequel. Paul was the one who wanted to bring the series back to its origins with Escape and tell the story of how the Ape World came to exist. His dark vision for the series began in Escape and escalated into the next two films.
The movie takes place twenty years after Escape, in the year 1991. Cornelius and Zira’s son, Caesar, is now grown and is still under the care of circus master Armando (Ricardo Montalban). As the film opens, Armando introduces Caesar to how the world has changed. It turns out that a plague in 1983 wiped out every dog and cat in the world so many humans adopted apes as their new choice of pet. These new pets transgressed into slaves when humans learned apes could do simple tasks which lead to enslavement. This turned man lazy and a Fascist regime rose in the ranks.
The regime created an Ape Control Centre where wild apes would be flown in from all over the globe and conditioned to do medial tasks. Through torture and strict discipline the apes were domesticated.
After Caesar speaks out against some police punishing an ape. Armando is forced to get himself arrested so Caesar can escape. Caesar infiltrates the Ape Control Centre and learns all about his race’s plight. So he hatches a plan for freedom for all.
“Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” is a strong sequel and finally reveals the overall vision of Paul Dehn. The uprise of racial tension and equality in the late 1960s and early 1970s really is shown in this film. The film does feel very dated with the tone and stylization but if you can get past the fact that the year is supposed to be 1991 and that this is an alternate timeline then you can probably enjoy the film.
One of my biggest hurdles with the structure of the film was that Armando calls Caesar by that name from the opening scene. Cornelius and Zira named their son Milo after their fallen comrade. Where did the name Caesar come from? Wouldn’t have been better to call him Milo at the beginning of the film then Caesar when Breck (Don Murray) asks him to choose his name? Just a thought.
Roddy McDowell once more acts his heart out as we watch Caesar grow from pet to slave to leader and eventually dictator. There are some really great key scenes in his evolution that make this film really touching.
I also thought the performances from Ricardo Montalban and Don Murray were quite exhilarating. Montalban’s fatherly affection for Caesar was so touching. His character grew as much as Caesar. Don Murray’s Breck, the Fascist leader, was also powerful. His “planet of the apes” speech, his desperation and that end scene were all dynamite.
“Conquest” is a surprise and now after the release of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” you can see that this film was probably the biggest inspiration for that Summer 2011 blockbuster. But we will touch more of that when we get to that review.
3.5 out of 5
So Says the Soothsayer
Side Note: The movie comes in two versions on the Blu-Ray of the film. Unrated version and theatrical version. The difference is the unrated version, which was shown during a test screening and scared parents, is bloodier and Caesar’s final speech is more dramatic. The Unrated is far superior because you really don’t see Caesar’s full evolution until that speech and the theatrical version cheapens it.