Ten years following his revolution and a devastating nuclear war among humans, Caesar embarks on a quest to learn about his parents, and in doing so discovers the future. Battle for the Planet of the Apes is by nearly all means the worst film of the original five (though I've only seen the extended cut, so whether this version is better or worse than the theatrical I am unsure of). After "Conquest", the studio wanted to make a less-violent, less-provocative, and more "family-friendly" film (and for way less money). This resulted in the least-exciting, least-intelligent, and most cringe-worthy final chapter possible.
First thing: I should clarify for some viewers that the apes did not conquer Earth. Many people have pointed out how that wouldn't make sense, and that's because it doesn't, and didn't happen anyway. There was a large scale nuclear war among humans, so the apes moreso "inherited" the planet despite the misleading implications of the films' titles. I digress. . . .
J. Lee Thompson reprises his role as director for the second time with "Battle", and flaws that were only starting to peek into the limelight in "Conquest" have now manifested into their full forms. The central flaw, is overall laziness. For example, the film starts with about five-minutes of reused-footage from the former two films (making it even lazier than the opening shot of "Beneath"). To its credit, there's more reused footage later on that's incorporated more intelligently. Furthermore, there's also supposed to be a three-day journey in the film, but no attempt in editing or direction is made to assist the viewer's perception of passing time. The battle sequences are overlong (which causes them to become boring) and are comprised largely of close- ups and quick cuts. The swindling budget no-doubt influenced these points, but the prevailing lack of forethought/effort should be more than evident regardless.
Paul Dehn returns for his fourth Apes film in a writing role, but this time only for story. The screenplay for "Battle" is written for newcomers John and Joyce Corrington, and is rather capricious in quality. There are yet a handful of things to praise, such as the relationship and parallels between humans and apes, and the commentary on determinism/time-travel presented through the corny and belief-disarming tear coming from Caesar's statue at the end. The most notable strength however is its quotability. For example, the "All knowledge is for good, only the use to which it is put can be for good or evil" quote seemed rather insightful and wise, though within the same vein of this strength lies some of the film's greatest weaknesses.
The film is quite simply unsure of how to incorporate the same sensibilities of its predecessors, such as its allegorical content or theoretical musings, so it resorts to having the characters say the ideas outright in conversation. These ideas are often very interesting, but lose potency when presented in contrived dialogue, which is also at times aggressively expository. Further weaknesses of various trades are present as well, including the jump in Caesar's character development (from one film to the next) with little to no insight or explanation surrounding it, the campy, cringy mutants, and the irritating, preachy, theistic fable format.
Above any other offense though, the nuances of the franchise's central allegory have been sucked dry (along with the budget). The commentary on race has subsided more so in this film than in its predecessors, making way instead for its own internal form of racism. Not enough time has passed since the acquired intelligence of apes to accommodate for the severe class disparities among their society, and instead it comes off as an unintentional statement that some apes are less equal than others. Take for example the accentuated intelligence of orangutans contrasted with the caricatured gorillas, who in this film are basically just violent, unintelligible children. The 1968 film presented a layered relationship between class structure, social structure, and race with nuances and insight, but in "Battle" it's handled so thoughtlessly as to be potentially offensive.
The performances in this film are also at their weakest in the franchise, with scenes causing you to wonder if they actually considered doing multiple takes for anything. The actor who portrays Aldo is bad much of the time, though every so often he accomplishes a decent performance when it comes to menacing stares or general physicality.
Roddy McDowall is again fine as Caesar, Paul Williams is interesting as Virgil, and Natalie Trundy improves a lot in this compared to the former entry (still not a great as an ape, but not distractingly bad either). Many of the actors don't seem to have gotten the hang of acting in the prosthetics, not having fully developed the techniques that the actors crafted in the first film. Austin Stoker as MacDonald's brother was one of the better performers in the film.
The sets are actually very nice, and are maybe the one truly redeeming aspect of the film. The tree-forts and tunnels and location paintings are all exciting and interesting in their own right. The music by Leonard Rosenman however is some of the most lackluster of the franchise. Besides a singular theme that seems to be applied vaguely to "emotional content", the music was either borderline hokey or simply muddy and unmemorable. Upon further deliberation, it seems that this score along with Rosenman's "Beneath" have the least personality of the bunch. That being said, the score is still competent, and I can't hold too much against it for that.
As a Planet of the Apes fan, I've found myself obligated to multiple viewings of this film, and have even found it within myself to enjoy it. So if you're a Planet of the Apes fan, you may have a good time despite its flaws. . . .
But it's still not a well-made film.