top of page
  • Rev Horror

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

Dir. J. Lee Thompson (1972)

In a futuristic world in which humans have enslaved apes, Caesar, the son of Cornelius and Zira, prepares to lead a revolt against the apes' masters.

In my review of the previous Apes movies, I spoke about how the social critique was never handled in a particularly subtle way. In comparison to this one, however, those films are but a whisper on the wind, because Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is about as subtle as an ape-thrown brick to the face. Dealing with themes of fascism, racism, and slavery, Conquest shows us a near-future (which was actually 1991) portrayal of the Civil Rights Era through the eyes of enslaved apes dealing with an authoritarian government in a Jim Crow-esque culture. It's angry, violent, and was unsurprisingly much more appreciated by the African American community upon its release in 1972, into a world that was less than a decade removed from the largest crests in the violence resulting from MLK, Malcolm X, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Told entirely through an expository monologue from Ricardo Montalbon's Armando, Conquest summarizes the events of the previous film, as well as the setup for this one, rather succinctly, paving the way for the film that finally tells how the world eventually became the Ape Planet. Caesar, the child of Cornelius and Zira, has been hidden away for almost twenty years, eventually resurfacing to realize the world's ape population has been made into slaves after a pandemic killed all of Earth's house pets. Caesar is having none of this shit, realizing that his position as the smartest ape in the world allows him to fit perfectly as a sort of Malcolm Ape, leading the growing ape resistance until they are prepared to finally fight back against their oppressors.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is a much darker film than what came before, both in tone and cinematography. This isn't an action adventure flick; rather, it is a re-telling of one of America's original sins, a sympathetic and disturbing portrayal of the evil potential when humans are given power over... well, anything. The first film in the series rated PG instead of G, this one likely would've been PG-13 had the rating existed at the time. Scenes of torture, abuse, and mistreatment abound, and it's downright hard to watch at times. Don Murray, who plays the fascist Governor Breck, is a Darth Vader-level villain by way of Grand Moff Tarkin: classy, vaguely British, and absolutely hateable. He even took his speech patterns directly from Hitler, learning his lines in German to make them more reminiscent of one of history's greatest villains. Which... is a choice.

It's an interesting tactic for the fourth film in the series: after making the apes nothing but unlikeable in the first two films and flirting with the Chimpanzee segment of their population being lovable scamps in the third, Conquest makes them pitiable. Why do the apes rise up and take over the Earth? Because people fucking suck. There's still a piece of me that is surprised that this didn't happen after the Civil Rights Era, because God knows white folks would have deserved it. Naturally, once the apes begin to fight against their overseers, we cheer them on, hoping that the violence continues and excitedly watching in the hopes that humans will indeed become the second-class citizens we have seen in the rest of the series.

From a filmmaking perspective, Conquest is probably the second-worst of the series so far (after Beneath), but it's still a damn good film. It fills in a lot of gaps in the mythos, and the character of Caesar, played by series favorite Roddy McDowall who returns as an ape after his previous character died at the end of Escape, is a fantastic new addition to the series. The story itself is still ridiculous, though the cultural parallels are a lot more easily told in this one. It feels a lot more Assault on Precinct 13 than Planet of the Apes, but that tonal shift is definitely necessary to get us to the end of the story. We'll have to see how Battle for the Planet of the Apes finishes the tale.

Who this movie is for: Sci-fi nerds, Socially-conscious film fans, Freedom Riders

Bottom line: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is a super-dark addition to the franchise and one that is desperately needed to get from Point A to Point B. Explaining how exactly the tide is turned against the humans, the film helps to show exactly why the apes hate us so damn much, and its audience can't help but fully absolve them of their roles in the downfall of the Earth. While I would hesitate to say this is a fun film, it's certainly a good one. The entire series is streaming on Hulu, and this is definitely one of the highlights of the franchise.

Featured Reviews

Featured Interviews

bottom of page