This evening we revisited a film I had not seen since I was a child, and one that was entirely new to Mrs. Multiverse. It was a difficult watch for me. If a movie is good, it pulls you into the story, and this movie was good. My aversion to the mistreatment of fellow creature, even pretend, bothers me. The movie is a quick watch, with very little slower moments. Everybody was really performing at eleven. At times the cheaper masks on the background performers pulled me out of the story, but those moments were fleeting. Roddy McDowall was a treasure and his ability to act beneath his prosthetics is a talent that few have. The Planet of the Apes franchise isn’t one of my go-tos, but when I do go there it’s always a treat.
Following a North American pandemic from a space-borne disease that wiped out all dogs and cats in 1983, the government has become a series of police states that took apes as pets before establishing a culture based on ape slave labor. These events were foretold in 1973 as testimony by two chimpanzee scientists Cornelius and his wife Zira, prior to being killed. While it appeared that their baby was also killed, he evaded death and was secretly raised by the circus owner Armando as a young horseback rider. In 1991, now fully grown and named Caesar, Armando brings him to one of the cities to distribute flyers for the circus’s arrival, explaining to the curious ape the events that led to their new reality while advising him not to speak in public for fear of his life.
Seeing apes performing various menial tasks and shocked at the harsh abuse inflicted on rebellious apes, Caesar shouts out “lousy human bastards!” after seeing a gorilla messenger being beaten and drugged. Though Armando takes responsibility for the exclamation while defusing the situation, Caesar runs away in the commotion. Finding Caesar hiding in a stairway, Armando tells the ape that he will turn himself in to the authorities and bluff his way out while instructing Caesar to hide among a group of arriving apes for safety. Caesar follows Armando’s instruction and hides in a cage of orangutans, finding himself being trained for slavery through violent conditioning. Caesar is then sold at auction to Governor Breck, allowed by his owner to name himself by randomly pointing to a word in a book handed to him. The chimpanzee’s finger rests upon the name “Caesar”, feigning coincidence. Caesar is then put to work by Breck’s chief aide MacDonald, whose African American heritage allows him to sympathize with the apes to the thinly veiled disgust of his boss.
Meanwhile, Armando is being interrogated by Inspector Kolp, who suspects his “circus ape” is the child of the two talking apes from the future. Kolp’s assistant puts Armando under a machine, “the Authenticator”, that psychologically forces people to be truthful. After admitting he had heard the name Cornelius before, Armando realizes he cannot fight the machine and jumps through a window to his death after a brief struggle with a guard. When Caesar learns of the circus owner’s death, he loses faith in human kindness and begins secretly teaching the apes combat while having them gather weapons.
By that time, through Kolp’s investigation that the vessel which supposedly delivered Caesar is from a region with no native chimpanzees, Breck learns that Caesar is the ape they are hunting. Caesar reveals himself to MacDonald after he covered for the ape twice when called by Breck on Caesar’s whereabouts. While MacDonald understands Caesar’s intent to depose Breck, he expresses his doubts about the revolution’s effectiveness along with Caesar being dismissive of most humans. Caesar is later captured by Breck’s men and is electrically tortured into speaking. Hearing him speak, Breck orders Caesar’s immediate death. Caesar survives his execution because MacDonald secretly lowers the machine’s electrical output well below lethal levels. Once Breck leaves, Caesar kills his torturer and escapes.
Caesar begins his revolution by first taking over Ape Management to build his numbers, proceeding to the command center with the apes killing most of the riot police that attempt to stop them, while setting the city on fire. After bursting into Breck’s command post and killing most of the personnel, Caesar has Breck marched out to be executed. MacDonald attempts to plea Caesar not to succumb to brutality and be merciful to the former masters. Caesar ignores him and, in a rage, declares, “Where there is fire, there is smoke. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch, and conspire, and plot, and plan for the inevitable day of man’s downfall. The day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind. The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland out of which I will lead my people from their captivity! And we shall build our own cities, in which there will be no place for humans except to serve our ends! And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you now!”
In the theatrical cut, as the apes raise their rifles to beat Breck to death, Caesar’s girlfriend Lisa voices her objection, shouting “No!”. She is the first ape to speak other than Caesar. Caesar reconsiders and orders the apes to lower their weapons, saying, “But now, now we will put away our hatred. Now we will put down our weapons. We have passed through the night of the fires, and those who were our masters are now our servants. And we, who are not human, can afford to be humane. Destiny is the will of God, and if it is man’s destiny to be dominated, it is God’s will that he be dominated with compassion and understanding. So, cast out your vengeance. Tonight, we have seen the birth of the Planet of the Apes!”