Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) Review

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Genre(s): Action, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 93 minutes (standard version), 96 minutes (extended version)

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

Battle for the Planet of the Apes was the fifth and last installment in the original film series. After a nuclear war, underground, radioactive humans seek one final confrontation with a commune of humans and apes living together in peace. It’s not an abomination, but this is the weakest of the Planet of the Apes movies released in the 1960s and 1970s.

After the dark, chaotic, violent Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), a more kiddie approach was decided on for the franchise. Indeed, this is perhaps the most family-friendly of the entire series…including the Planet of the Apes pictures that came in the twenty-first century. Despite being the least graphic, this feature still attempts to grapple with some philosophical issues. Whether it’s successful or not, I’ll leave that up to you.

This piece of cinema has a noticeably lower budget than its predecessors. The ten-minute final action scene seems laughable at first, due to its monetary restrictions. However, director J. Lee Thompson makes the best of a dubious situation and the action (with the exception of a clunky shootout in the radioactive city where the bad guys come from) is moderately exciting.

Okay, it barely lives up to its title, as it borders on being called “Minor Skirmish for the Planet of the Apes,” but this is an okay movie. It certainly is kitschy, and not every scene is completely captivating. However, I still watch it every time I view the Planet of the Apes film franchise of the ’60s and ’70s, so I suppose that says something. It’s not torture unless you’re allergic to sci-fi cheesefests.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) Review

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG (theatrical cut), Not Rated (unrated cut)

IMDb Page

The Planet of the Apes series had been dark before, but, with the fourth entry, it became outright pissed-off. In a fascistic future where all dogs and cats have died due to a plague from outer space, apes are used as pets and slaves by humans. However, one chimpanzee, Caesar (Roddy McDowall), has violent revolt on his mind. This, right here, is the best of the original set of sequels to Planet of the Apes (1968).

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is seething with revolutionary fervor. This is an angry and incendiary film, built around a slave rebellion…and it almost plays out like a start-your-own-state-of-anarchy playbook. It is available in two versions: the standard, PG-rated theatrical cut (that’s still plenty vicious) and a bloodier unrated version with an alternate ending.

The big draw of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is the final action sequence, which lasts about twenty minutes. It is certainly the most sustained scene of mayhem that the franchise has seen yet. It’s exceptional, with humans and apes duking it out at the “Ape Management” building and in the streets of the city that the picture is set in. Its budget wasn’t unlimited, but director J. Lee Thompson (who had previously helmed The Guns of Navarone [1961]) uses his resources very effectively.

Roddy McDowall gives a surprisingly good performance, considering that he’s covered in chimpanzee make-up. It’s a little odd seeing dirty apes, when they’re being used as slaves, serving humans food and touching all of their precious belongings. Get past that, and you’ll be rewarded with a fiery, dramatic, action-oriented sci-fi film with plenty of passion. Forget satire and nuance, let’s get straight to violent revolution!

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) Review

Director: Don Taylor

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 98 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

Somehow, after the ending of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), the Planet of the Apes series was kept alive, and the third film in the franchise is one of the more unique entries into its canon. Three ape astronauts – Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter), and Milo (Sal Mineo) – arrive in the 1970s United States in the salvaged spacecraft used by the humans in the original Planet of the Apes (1968). This one is special, being the least action-oriented of the series.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes actually starts out like a fish-out-of-water comedy. How would these apes react to being slapped down in the middle of the twentieth-century United States? It’s mostly light stuff, but the film’s increasing thriller elements mean this merriment doesn’t last forever. There are no clear heroes or villains here.

As mentioned above, this picture is not very concerned with physical action. It’s more about exploring complicated moral dilemmas, something it does quite well. Despite a minimum of fighting, the film does end on a very grim note. Like the previous entries in the Planet of the Apes series, its G rating from the MPAA should be ignored.

The plot of Escape from the Planet of the Apes is mighty contrived and implausible, but it’s a successful midway point for the 1960s/1970s incarnation of the franchise. No explosions or intricately choreographed fights here, yet its solid pacing and unafraid examinations of important moral matters make it a winner. It’s sometimes regarded as the best of the sequels from the ’60s/’70s series, and, while I don’t agree with that, it’s definitely a feature worth watching.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) Review

Director: Ted Post

Genre(s): Adventure, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

When people think of Planet of the Apes (1968) being a cheesy movie, they probably have something along the lines of its first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, in mind. This is the one where astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) lands on the same ape-controlled planet as the crew from the original film does, and finds himself in the middle of a war between the apes and a race of underground mutants. Yeah, this is the point where things really start to get out of control.

This one feels slightly cheaper-made than the 1968 classic. There’s still lots of stuff going on, but, in comparison to the first one, this one has a bit of made-for-television quality to it at times (though it was released in theaters). The star, James Franciscus, is basically just a Charlton Heston lookalike, and he goes through a similar journey to that of Heston’s in the original. There’s also some “satire” here that is almost comically on-the-nose.

Still, there are a few good action set-pieces to enjoy. The film’s tone is pitch-black, with some nihilistically violent scenes. The movie’s G-rating from the MPAA is truly a joke. It’s a dark picture, almost horror movie-ish at times, but that’s part of its appeal. The budget may be lower, but it’s fun to watch to see how zany and off-the-wall it can get.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes is certainly a piece of sci-fi kitsch, but I like that kind of stuff. It’s not essential viewing if you liked the 1968 original, especially if you have a low tolerance level for cinematic cheese. Despite the film’s bleak nature, the scariest part of the feature is actually its end credits, which credit Victor Bruno’s character as “Fat Man” and Don Pedro Colley’s as “Negro.” Yikes!

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Planet of the Apes (1968) Review

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

The 1968 sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes boasts one of the best endings in cinema history, but it’d be a mistake to overlook the rest of the picture. Four human astronauts – George Taylor (Charlton Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner), Dodge (Jeff Burton), and Stewart (Dianne Stanley) – land on a mysterious planet ruled by intelligent, talking apes. This compelling story spawned a multi-film franchise and remains the best of the series.

It’s pretty easy to dismiss this movie as a kitschy, cheesy science-fiction relic, with its elaborate ape costumes and wonderfully-hammy acting from Charlton Heston, yet this flick is much more than that. This is a sly, satirical piece of filmmaking, with more of a sense of humor than might be expected. It also benefits from a palpable sense of menace and danger (Planet of the Apes was rated G by the MPAA, but this was clearly before the organization had any clue as to what they were doing).

Jerry Goldsmith’s jolting, avant-garde musical score is a highlight, as are the excellent action scenes. The scenery and sets are top-notch, and the arc for Charlton Heston’s character, a cynical misanthrope, is one of the most memorable of its kind. The special effects haven’t aged as poorly as one might think, and the cinematography is grand.

It’s the movie’s somewhat talky third act that keeps Planet of the Apes from the big leagues, as far as ratings and rankings are concerned. Yes, this part of the picture is necessary for the plot and contains the stunning ending, but most of it is less thrilling than the material that came before it. Overall, this is an intelligent, if occasionally heavy-handed, sci-fi-adventure that needs to be watched before popular culture spoils the final scene for you.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Superman Returns (2006) Review

Director: Bryan Singer

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 154 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

2006’s Superman Returns picks up just about where the original Superman series of the 1970s and 1980s left off. Yes, we have a different actor playing the Man of Steel this time around (Brandon Routh, instead of Christopher Reeve), but it seems to follow the same continuity of the old franchise. In this adventure, Superman returns to Earth after spending five years looking for the remains of his homeworld of Krypton, only to find that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has found a new boyfriend – Richard White (James Marsden) – and that Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is back to plotting his evil schemes. It’s a bit on the bloated side, but I can still say that I like it.

Superman Returns is in its groove when dealing with the big action set-pieces. Advances in special effects since the 1980s and that sort of thing mean the disaster and rescue sequences are more spectacular than before, with one of the more memorable ones involving an out-of-control airplane that Superman must prevent from crashing into a baseball stadium. Backing up the titular superhero throughout the movie is the returning John Williams musical theme from the ’70s and ’80s, though the main composer for the picture is John Ottman.

The biggest problem facing this action-adventure is its overlong runtime (a little over two-and-a-half hours). The climax goes on for a while, and there’s numerous scenes that the movie still has to show us after the grand finale, which might test your patience. Another minor fault of the flick is that Superman sometimes exhibits some stalker-ish behavior. I mean, the guy can see and hear through walls.

Superman Returns is a better movie than Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), and roughly on par with Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980). A couple of parts go on and on, yet it’d be a mistake to entirely dismiss the feature for this. Unless you’re a Christopher Reeve purist, Superman fans will probably experience enough moments of delight to make it worth watching.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) Review

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, while no masterpiece, isn’t quite as bad as its reputation would suggest. In the fourth installment in the saga, Superman (Christopher Reeve) sets out to rid the world of nuclear weapons, only to face sunlight-powered supervillain Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow, voiced by Gene Hackman). While not a colossal waste of time, this movie was such a failure that it temporarily killed off the Superman film series.

Let’s start with the good. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is an endearingly earnest flick, which stands in stark contrast to the meta superhero pictures of modern times. Superman is quite the do-gooder here, and is serious about his, uh, quest to save the Earth from potential nuclear war. Sure, it’s sort of cheesy, but it’s nice to see an action-adventure feature extolling these sincere, strait-laced virtues.

The special effects in this movie aren’t as terrible as many people say they are, but they certainly won’t have you writing home about them. There are a few numbskull moments (wait, since when can Superman create bricks out of thin air…and, wait, how is that character breathing in outer space?), and these seem to be the pieces of content that many reviewers pick up on most. It’s decidedly kiddier than previous entries in the franchise, yet this probably won’t bother the children watching.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace probably gets a worse rap than it deserves. It benefits from being shorter in runtime than the older films and being tonally consistent. Nit-picker types will have a field day with all of its flaws, but I’ll commend it for not being boring dreck. I can’t really recommend it, though, unless you want to watch the entire Superman series.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Superman III (1983) Review

Director: Richard Lester

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Romance, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 125 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

I think most people who’ve seen the Superman series would agree that Superman III is a step down from the first two. It’s not bad, but parts of it are a bit of a chore by superhero movie standards. Evil businessman Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) is obsessed with cornering the market for certain commodities, so he decides to eliminate Superman (Christopher Reeve) with some artificial kryptonite to prevent the Man of Steel from interfering with his plans. There’s an interesting idea or two to be found here, but, overall, it feels routine.

Superman III is a lot more comedic than Superman (1978) or Superman II (1980), not that those films didn’t have plenty of comic relief. Much of the humor is provided by the character Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor), a down-on-his-luck dude who turns out to be a whiz with computers. Speaking of computers, they’re all over the place here, in all their bulky, 1980s-looking glory. The technology is mighty dated, as is the picture’s campy aesthetic, but it serves as a cautionary tale about the powers of new-fangled gadgetry.

On the action front, things are…adequate. There’s a nice punch-up involving Superman in a junkyard that I won’t spoil the details of, but the finale feels fairly lethargic at times for the conclusion of an action-adventure flick. The special effects are actually on the impressive side, but what good are they when the story is undercooked? It’s cool and all seeing Superman constantly saving the day, but he needs a tighter plot to back him up.

Although the musical score is done by Ken Thorne, John Williams’ classic themes make a return. Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) does too, but the main romantic subplot here is between the titular character and his hometown high school sweetheart, Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole). Okay, this one isn’t essential viewing, but it’s not torture. It has a few enjoyable moments, but it sort of takes a while for the actual plot to kick in.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Superman II (1980) Review

Directors: Richard Lester and Richard Donner

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 127 minutes (standard version), 116 minutes (Richard Donner Cut)

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

As promised at the end of Superman (1978), the superhero would return in a sequel that would pick off where the first left off. Here, Superman/Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) must prevent the three Kryptonian criminals from the opening of the previous film – Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O’Halloran) – from taking over Earth. It’s a pretty similar experience to the 1978 picture, but some people prefer this one.

Superman II greatly benefits from having more intimidating baddies than the first movie in the franchise. The menace of Zod, Ursa, and Non, while offering a few comedic moments, is mostly played straight. They have the same superhuman abilities as Superman and put up quite a fight against the titular character. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) returns here, but he’s out of the picture for too much of the runtime to make that much of an impression.

The special effects are fine, sometimes looking quite quaint. The action scenes are an improvement over the ones in 1978’s Superman. The White House assault and the big battle in downtown Metropolis between the title character and the three major villains stand out most. The mass destruction caused by the latter sequence is highly impressive considering its release date.

John Williams doesn’t do the music for Superman II (the score is composed by Ken Thorne), but his amazing themes return. Anyway, this one is only marginally less-good than the first in the series. It doesn’t feel as tight as it potentially could’ve been, but the wholesome heroics are back, and this one does manage to top Superman in some regards. If you liked the 1978 flick, you’ll probably have similar feelings about the first sequel.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Superman (1978) Review

Director: Richard Donner

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 143 minutes (standard version), 151 minutes (2000 restoration), 188 minutes (Extended Version)

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Before Iron Man (2008), before Batman (1989), there was 1978’s Superman. Yes, this is, more or less, the grandpappy of the modern superhero picture…so, how does it hold up? The story concerns itself with Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve), a human-like being sent from another world to Earth as a child. His extraordinary powers, like super-speed and super-strength, convince him to take up the role of a superhero to protect the people of his adoptive planet. Of course, he also has to fall in love (with fellow reporter Lois Lane [Margot Kidder]) and foil the plot of a mad genius.

Superman has a bit of a reputation for being a boring character, but I think that the 1978 film does a swell job of humanizing him. He may be able to snatch a speeding bullet out of midair, but he has the emotions of any typical human, and the dramatic challenges he confronts (like the decision to leave the farm he was raised on or not) make for some of the more memorable moments of the movie. However, arguably the best aspect of the picture is its titanic John Williams musical score that you’ll probably be humming long after the feature is over.

The special effects here are a mixed bag. Some hold up nicely, but most are pretty dated. The tone is sort of weird, veering from serious to hokey. The threat posed by the villain, madman Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), varies by scene. His nefarious plot arrives a bit too late in the runtime and many of his scenes are marred by silly comedy that undermine his potential menace. The climatic resolution to Superman’s problems may also leave some audience members scratching their collective heads.

Despite being the first major comic book superhero flick, Superman has a couple of touches that could be considered fairly meta for their time (like a brief, humorous bit when Clark Kent decides not to put on his Superman costume in an exposed telephone booth surrounded by people gawking at the disaster he’s trying to dampen the impact of and find a more reclusive spot to don his suit). All in all, this is a good, but not great, entry into the action-adventure genre. It’s got the heart and the music of a wonderful movie, but some elements just weren’t willing to play ball.

My rating is 7 outta 10.