Released in 1973. Written by John & Joyce Corrington. Directed by J. Lee Thompson. Starring Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins, and Natalie Trundy. Running time 1 hour 33 minutes.
In this final installment, the film opens with the Law Giver (John Huston) telling the story of Cornelius and Zira traveling back to the past to learn about Humans, their murder on the barge, and the rise of Caesar during the revolution through flashback and voice over.
It is now 10 years after Caesar began the revolution, a nuclear bomb has decimated the city, and those humans and apes who got away now reside alongside one another in Ape City with Caesar as ruler. Caesar (Roddy McDowall) is married to Lisa (Natalie Trundy) and they have a son Cornelius (Bobby Porter). General Aldo (Claude Akins), head of the Gorillas, opposes Caesar and plots to overthrow Caesar every chance he gets.
MacDonald (Austin Stoker), Caesar’s human counterpart and advisor, tells Caesar he knows where the footage of Cornelius and Zira is located and will show him. Knowing his parents and what the future holds will help Caesar to plan for the residents of Ape City. Caesar agrees and enlists Virgil (Paul Williams) to go with them to the Forbidden City.
Once the three are there, they find the tapes of Cornelius and Zira but just as they are about to learn more, they are discovered by Governor Kolp (Severn Darden) and his mutant humans who live in and defend the Forbidden City. Narrowly escaping Gov. Kolp and the mutants, the trio head back to Ape City to tell the residents what they found. While Caesar claims the mutant humans only acted in defense, Aldo asserts the mutants will come for them and want war.
Meanwhile, back at the Forbidden City, Mendez (Paul Stevens) tells Gov. Kolp the Apes weren’t there to harm them and probably didn’t even know the mutants were there to begin with. He begs Gov. Kolp to let them be in peace; but Gov. Kolp wants to to go to battle and proceeds to gather up his troops. He sends a scouting team to find Ape City and report back.
In Ape City, Caesar commands Aldo to give up the war idea; which makes Aldo angry. Later, Aldo and the Gorillas sit around a campfire and talk about overthrowing Caesar. Cornelius–out looking for his pet squirrel–overhears the group. They notice him, Cornelius climbs a tree to get away; but Aldo cuts the branch causing Cornelius to fall. The Gorillas run away leaving Lisa to stumbled upon the body of her son laying in the brush.
While Cornelius struggles to stay alive with Caesar and Lisa by his side, Aldo assumes power over Ape City. Aldo rounds up all the humans from Ape City and has them locked in a corral as well as take all the guns and ammunition from the armory.
As Cornelius lies dying, he tells his father what happened but dies before he can name Aldo as the one who cut the branch. Just then, the humans approach Ape City. With the Humans locked up, the Apes all band together to battle the Mutants. Most of Ape City is destroyed. With one last effort, the Apes appear to retreat drawing the Mutants into camp. Once surrounded, the Apes leap into action and devastate the Mutants becoming victorious.
After the battle, Aldo wants to get rid of all the humans in the corral but Caesar stops him saying they weren’t a part of the battle. Virgil then pipes up confronting Aldo about being the one who cut the branch. The first rule being, “Ape must never kill Ape.” All the Apes turn against Aldo making Aldo flee with Caesar going after him. They both climb a tree but as they begin to fight, Aldo loses his balance and falls to his death. Caesar feels mixed emotions as he rages inside for the death of his son but also that his rage made him kill Aldo.
When Caesar tries to free the humans, they refuse to come out and demand equality in Ape City. Caesar and the humans decide to try to live and work together for the sake of humanity.
As the film closes, the Law Giver states it is now 2670 A.D., 600 years later and the great Caesar did all he could to unite the Humans and the Apes to live together. It becomes clear he is teaching to a group of human and Ape children about their history. A child asks about the fate of the future and whether Humans and Apes will continue to live together to which the Law Giver replies with, “Only the dead know the future.” The camera then pans to a statue of Caesar who sheds a tear.
What I liked
I liked the story picked up relatively where it left off–mostly. Caesar is still relatively young, married to Lisa, and with a son. I found it interesting they only had one child. Seems like they would’ve had more kids. At least a toddler…
The landscape of Ape City with everyone working together–well, mostly working together. You can see the inequality in the costumes. The Apes, Orangutans, and Gorillas all had their “uniforms of color” consistent across all five films (which I found interesting mostly because over time, I would think they would change at least a little and the jumpsuit were reminiscent of when they were slaves, so why keep them?) The humans holding higher status like MacDonald, the teacher (Noah Keen) and the doctor (Heather Lowe) all wore regular clothes in good condition; whereas, all other humans in Ape City wore rags of sorts which were dirty and torn.
The balance is clearly not there despite appearances or motives. It’s mentioned a couple of times about things not being equal as well as trust toward one another being the largest obstacle. I found this interesting as Caesar was willing to live peacefully among Humans as long as he controlled them, held them in slavery positions, and kept Humans out of city meetings. MacDonald and the Humans were willing to live peacefully among the Apes but wanted to be included in and accepted as vital members of the city. Humans were forbidden to say the word, “no” to apes due to the number of times Apes heard the word from their slave masters before the revolution; however, Apes could say whatever they wanted to Humans. A double standard? The Humans thought so…
I liked the constant dissension within Ape City. It stayed consistent over the course of the franchise with the Gorillas always wanting aggression and war. The battle scene was epic, of course, much like a zombie movie where the Apes and the Mutants weren’t really that far apart but it seemed like it took forever for the Mutants to get there, the range of the Mutants cannon fire, and how the Ape tree houses went up in blazes.
What I Wished Was Better
I didn’t need the back story in the beginning. I feel like the movie could’ve started right with Ape City and the teacher doing his lesson. Every day life in Ape City. Maybe a second visit to the Forbidden City to make peace with the Mutants only to find they don’t want it or something like that. Aldo goes this time and says or does something to make them angry which causes the final battle.
10 years seems a short amount of time to go from a Ape revolution to a nuclear bomb to Ape City without any real damage except in the Forbidden City. Why is the Forbidden City the only thing melted and mutated? None of the Apes or humans in Ape City are mutated, everything looks lush, and they have plenty of fresh vegees and such. The timeline could’ve been set farther into the future with Caesar much older, maybe Cornelius as a young man coming to terms with being Caesar’s son and finding his own way. Maybe Aldo and Cornelius are friends and have a falling out adding to Aldo’s confrontation against Caesar? Maybe the child who dies is not Cornelius but Cornelius’ son? (As we were watching, it dawned on us—Cornelius and Zira (from the future) give birth to Caesar who has a son Cornelius…what if Caesar’s son Cornelius was the same Cornelius who goes back in time to give birth to Caesar? But then, the timeline doesn’t support it…it was an interesting mind warp though…)
The Mutant people leave the Forbidden City chasing after the Apes without being affected by the sunlight. Now, if they were truly Mutants, wouldn’t they need protective eye gear or be blinded by the light? They are seen wearing red lens goggles for the final battle but…And, all the Apes have learned to speak quite fluently in a short amount of time which is quite interesting.
Even living together peacefully doesn’t automatically equate to equality within the group. Trust, understanding, and agreement in motivation are the key here. Caesar does his best to offer this dream world to the Humans he shares Ape City with–because of his relationship with Armando and MacDonald–as well as believing not all Humans are bad. However, he doesn’t trust Humans underneath all the politically correct language of peace and understanding and MacDonald don’t fully trust the Apes. Both sides fear the other turning on them giving the chance.
Ahh, humanity. So afraid of losing our standing, we refuse to hold our hand out to help or hold up one another causing both parties to be left behind. I will if they will and I’m not going to if they aren’t going to. Around and around we go which is how we’ll probably end up upside down instead of side by side just like the movie predicts…Whomever writes history fortells the future…makes me quite sad. I thought we would be smarter by now.
The final installment, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, leaves you lots to think about. Even if we learn from the past, are we brave enough to take the knowledge into the future? Available to stream. Watch the trailer below:
Fun Facts: Roddy McDowall is the only cast member in all five movies. This film is the one which inspired Tony Mendez for the plan ARGO used to free the six Americans hiding in Tehran in 1979. *See my review for Argo* Aldo is the name of the Ape originally called responsible for the revolution in the first film and Caesar later on. A little switcharoo…