The King is dead. Long live the King! J. Lee Thompson casts a dark shadow upon the fourth film in the Ape franchise, an infusion of fear, paranoia, and repression where minorities, unable to access equal rights or the rule of law, stage a violent revolt and destroy the destroyers…thus ensuring their potential salvation will result in their own annihilation.
The film’s premise is explained in the first few minutes: Armando saved the child of the time traveling hominids Zira and Cornelius, an evolved great ape that could lead his taxonomic family to enslave the human race (explained in the previous film). For the past twenty years, this ape was thought dead until an excited utterance reveals the truth: the world is inhabited by lousy human bastards! Now, apes have replaced domestic pets as objects of affection, and their superior intelligence (relative to dogs and cats), has cast them as servants and slaves. Caesar witnesses the barbaric cruelty levied against his kind and leads a bloody revolution, his crown a ring of fire, and spits his venomous curse towards all humanity for he is not born of man or woman, and he must set his kindred free.
Once suspension of disbelief is successfully suspended (for all the apes other than Caesar are of the mundane type), the film is ripe with spoiled morality that urges violence as not only the means…but also the end. A film that refracts its time through the prism of social upheaval, echoing the screams of innocent students murdered at Kent State, or those beaten and ridiculed because of their race or religious (and non-religious) belief, capturing the frisson of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where law only existed for those with Power.
The film in its original cut is brutal. Caesar leads in a frenzy of violence, without recourse to the Rule of Law as this is his species only hope of freedom, however temporary. The Governor is nothing more than a racist caricature, scowling his way through the film, and his assistant MacDonald, a black man, is the subdued voice of reason, a man who cannot subscribe to this wholesale slaughter. Anger breeds anger, the knife leads to the gun, the gun to bombs, until extermination rests in the hands of madmen. In this version, the Chimpanzee Lisa is unable to utter the compassionate plea for mercy, and Caesar commands his legion to batter the Governor to death. His fiery rhetoric inflames his minions and is the spark that burns away the old to make way for the New World Order. Like all Dictators, Caesar better watch his friends closely.
Final Grade: (B)