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The Planet of the Apes films have to be one of the single greatest film franchises ever. Out of the five films made, all but one were solid and compelling in their own way (that one being the last, Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)). Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) was a favorite amongst critics, but outside of the original, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) is certainly next in line for me. The whole theme of revolution and Caesar a prodigy of the future—which is actually a continuation of the plot line of Escape from the Planet of the Apes—witnessing his fellow apes abused and enslaved is nothing short of genius. Caesar ultimately incites a rebellion in which the apes over power their human oppressors marking the moment when the shift in earth’s dominant species from human to ape begins. You gotta love that, and you also have to love the depiction of humans as fascists and racists—in many ways it is a terribly violent and misanthropic film.
You will get a sense of both the violence and fascism in the scene linked to above, wherein Caesar (Roddy McDowall) actually speak in public for the first time after being outraged by the brutal treatment of a fellow ape at the hands of humans. His “lousy human bastards” is a throwback and inversion of Heston’s “damned dirty apes” line. And, as an aside, it must be said that Ricardo Montalban was made for this role, he plays the perfect compassionate human. The evolution of this series is really brilliant, and watching Cornelius training and mobilizing the other apes is brilliant—and when they get armed and revolt, I was nothing but transfixed. One other thing I really enjoy about Conquest is the way it uses the built environment of Los Angeles to convey a very convincing and memorable futuristic set. Most of the outside scenes were shot in LA’s Century City Mall, which is featured nicely in the above clip, highlighting the ubiquitous stairways of this outside mall leading from store to store. Pretty remarkable these used an LA mall to frame the dystopic/fascist vision of the future. Conquest may possibly be the best sequel in terms of plot, action, and horrific subtext that may be the only other film in the series that comes even remotely close to the genius of the original.