This review is part of a series of reviews Journey to the Planet of the Apes to prepare for the newest installment.
You can find all the reviews here.
Escape manages to open with the biggest “what the hell“ moment in the entire series, showing our present day (well 70s present day) earth where a ship crashlands that looks oddly familiar. Three astronauts exit, but when they take of their helmets the obvious music cue just makes it even stranger to look at three apes in space uniforms and wonder what the hell just happened.
Despite the ridiculous opening this movie has a lot to go for. The three apes are Cornelius and Zira (from part I and II) and token ape who will get killed. The problem this sequel had to face was how one continues a story where everything gets blown up at the end.
The answer is to make it Terminator… with just one Terminator in the form of a group of apes who are friendly. Through plot convolution the atomic bomb blasted the three apes back in time (just like in real life) because for some reason they happened to be taking off with the spaceship at the end of part II.
If you can accept this preposterous premise the first half of the movie is actually quite funny and interesting. Cornelius and Zira are treated very kindly (something remarkably different from this sort of movies) by humans and are seen as celebrities. There are a lot of cultural misunderstandings etc. and watching this movie back in 1971 must have felt like being on a trip. Contrary to Beneath Escape sets a completely different tone than the original, while continuing (more or less) the storyline. It is funny and the acting is ok and there are a lot of interesting thoughts put into the room.
When Zira describes how they killed humans for autopsy humans feel uncomfortable, once again the role reversal forces everyday ideas like killing animals to be looked at in a different light. Of course not everything goes well seeing as Zira and Cornelius tell a future (more on that in part IV) where humans will be enslaved and this forces some government suits to try to pull a John Connor and prevent a future. After all, what if Zira’s unborn child is the reason apes started to rise?
What starts as a very interesting, fresh and promising storyline soon gets bogged down when we realize that “humans are bad to protagonists” is something that is not gone from this movie, it is just postponed. And the moment when the manhunt/apehunt starts the movie gets boring and uninteresting.
Ending not as bleak as part II Zira and Cornelius are shot down, but their child has survived in a Zoo led by Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!
In a hilarious scene where footage of an ape gets played back- and forwards the young ape voices “mama” ending with the question if this ape will be the one who starts enslaving humanity.
Escape is a big step up from part II, the end is very generic, but it is a more or less enjoyable film. It suffers when it gets pressed into the preconceived form of the “now we have to be evil to the apes”-movie and flourishes at the beginning when it embraces its ridiculousness.
But what will be even worse in the sequels is the fact that because this is a continued story there is some baggage from the previous films and the simplicity and authenticity of the first movie “they blew the earth up and now apes rule” gets buried under contrived plotlines, turning the series away from an interesting premise and focusing instead on other plotlines, but we will see this clusterfuck take full shape with the next movie:
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes