SYNOPSIS: A second space expedition has been dispatched to discover what happened to Taylor's ship, and also crash lands. The surviving astronaut looks for Taylor, while the Gorillas prepare for a war against the humans that live in the Forbidden Zone. Taylor has discovered there is a society of advanced humans living *ahem* beneath the planet of the apes, a society mutated by radiation who worship an atomic bomb. And that bomb might just be used against the apes, to the ruin of everything.
I'll say it: Beneath the Planet of the Apes is weird. I know the idea of time traveling to an ape-riddled earth already seems a little crazy, but this movie takes it to a whole other level. I didn't know what to think going into it, and was completely dumbfounded by the end. If the ending of the original is shocking, this one is maybe even worse because nobody has parodied and spoiled it for years. But I'm going to spoil it in this review later because there's no way to talk about this movie without it.
There's still some good make-up in this movie, even with the budget cut down. You can tell in the crowd scenes that many of the apes are in just rubber masks, but even so the real make-up work on the principles seems even a little better than the original at times. And the reveal of the humans underground was a shock.
This movie picks up immediately where the last one left off. I was surprised that Charlton Heston was in it at all. The film is mostly not concerned with him, but we get some new stuff with him early on to set things up, and he does come back at the end. His character is an important premise throughout, "what happened to Taylor?" And I also like that some of the themes toyed with in the original are continued here. We see more of the "youth movement" stuff, with a chimp protest against gorilla agression. Interestingly, the protest is broken up and the kids put in jail, the first instance of ape-on-ape agression I've seen in the classic films. The gorilla leader has speeches like "the only good human is a dead human!" which again has political and racial overtones. I like that those things were continued.
But there are other elements that confused me. How is it that the gorillas know there are humans living in the Forbidden Zone? Did they just assume they were Taylor's people? It seems the set-up for this war came a little out of left field. The set design undergound is cool. They live in the old subway tunnels of New York and you can see old vehicles and stuff partially protruding from the walls.
But let's get to the people underground. This is where the movie gets very strange and while it's got some audacious ideas, I think they are handled a bit clumsily and I have no idea what exactly they were trying to say. The humans underground are remnants of the nuclear wars that damaged the planet, and are horribly scarred. They also generally don't speak, but unlike the other dumb humans they have advanced psychic powers and can communicate telepathically. They also can hack the minds of others and create convincing illusions. It's in the area of religion where this movie gets even wackier. The first movie played with religion some, teasing about holy scriptures and such. But in this film not only do we get a little more about the Lawgiver that the apes worship, but the human society has its own god: a nuclear bomb. Yes, they worship a bomb left down in the caverns. They have built a whole church around it and sing praises to it. Indeed, they have an entire liturgical Christian church service centered around it, just with the bomb substituted for Christ. They have collective prayers like "Glory be to the bomb and to the holy fallout." Is this a commentary on religion? Politics? It's certainly weird. And I had a hard time suspending disbelief that such things could develop in thousands of years that way. I could mostly follow the logic of the superior original film. This one seemed more about the ideas than the logic in-story to justify them.
But it's certainly an audacious movie and for awhile it's a sensible and entertaining sequel. How do you follow up on the ending of the first movie? They did it in one of the only ways you could, I suppose, but not all the pieces fit together. Some will love it because it's so weird. But it was a little too much for me.
Now as for that ending, let's talk about it. (Again, spoilers!) How do you top the bleak twist of the original? You blow up the world. Things build to a head and then Charlton Heston pushes the button that launches the god-bomb and blows up the entire planet. The screen goes white and we hear a voiceover tell us that the planet was destroyed. That's one way to end with some finality! It still, I suppose, hints at the themes at play in the last film, with man destroying himself and his world. Is that the social commentary? That man worships his weapons too much? Charlton Heston apparently didn't want to do a sequel, but agreed to appear in a few scenes to hand the movie over to the rest of the cast. But beyond that, he wanted to make sure there were no more sequels to follow, so his own hand is the one that pushes the button to blow up the planet for good. It reminds me of Michael Landon and how he ended Little House on the Prairie by blowing up the town to ensure there could never be anymore.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a lesser sequel, but that's not to say it is without merit. For me though, the proceedings are so scattered and weird, culminating in a flabbergasting conclusion that I don't quite know what to make of it. When it ended, all I could think was, "well, that was weird." It's not a movie that everyone will appreciate or enjoy. Not the worst sequel to a classic film that's ever been made, though. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that given how the movie ended they ever made another one. But they made three more, and two TV series! We'll get to those later. For now, let's just ruminate on the fact that it all ended in destruction.