I am almost at the end of this reverse trip through the original five Planet of the Apes movies. Watching the films in this order may enhance some (it really ups Conquest) but it commits some serious militaristic gorilla violence on a film that is already considered one of the weaker installments, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Watching it in proper chronological order, it’s seems forgivable that a sequel to one of the greatest of all SF films would drop down a few notches. But when viewed after the films that follow it, Beneath's lower quality looks more stark and harder to explain.
Not much about this movie works. For most of the running time, it’s a repeat of the original, except 1) lacking the surprise factor, 2) starring a far less interesting version of Charlton Heston as played by James Franciscus, and 3) without Roddy McDowall. Nothing against McDowall’s replacement, David Watson, who does a pretty spot-on McDowall impersonation, which was what he was hired to do, but McDowall is the franchise’s core character, and after watching him star in three movies in the series in a row (again, viewed backwards), his absence feels staggering.
After a dull 45-minute stretch that includes a terribly lifeless chase between Franciscus and the gorillas, the film at last brings in some new ideas with the mutants and their Alpha-Omega bomb culture. Unfortunately, most of this material come across as silly.
But… Beneath the Planet of the Apes does at last pull through and manage to notch itself at least one spot higher than Battle for the Planet of the Apes in quality with the nihilistic finale that just stuns for how misanthropic it is. Taylor proves Dr. Zaius was right all along: humans are no damn good and we’re just going to blow the whole place up… again! The finale is basically, “Well screw you all, I’m just going to kill everybody and how do you like that you damn dirty apes?”
Ah, early ’70s science fiction!