This is the fifth movie in the original series, following Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (in which enslaved apes rebel against their human captors). It is the last movie in the original series that was made as a movie; there are five further movies that were edited from a later television series.
After a brief, explanatory prologue, the movie begins in a rustic settlement of treehouses where apes and humans live side by side, ruled over by Caesar (again played by Roddy McDowall). All of the apes now have the power of speech, and dress as they did in the original movie.
We soon learn, however, that all is not harmony in Ape City. The gorillas, led by Aldo (Claude Akins), resent Caesar's peaceful ways. The humans, led by MacDonald (now played by Austin Stoker), resent being treated as second-class citizens.
Caesar is advised by wise orangutan Virgil (Paul Williams), and by his wife Lisa (Natalie Trundy, who appears in different roles in nearly all movies in this series – she was the producer's wife). Caesar also has a young son.
Caesar eventually realizes it is time to scout the ruins of the old city (unnamed, but apparently New York City and the location of the previous movie). It becomes obvious that there has been a nuclear war. This trip unfortunately provokes the city's radiation-sickened, half-mad inhabitants, led by Kolp (Severn Darden), a minor character from the last film, to make war on Ape City. And if the war goes badly, they have a back-up plan…
Note minor roles for Paul Stevens (Exodus, Patton) and France Nuyen (Suzie Wong on Broadway, Elaan on Star Trek) in the ruined city.
This movie provides an interesting backstory for the earlier Beneath the Planet of the Apes. However, there is a conflict with the presentation of the Forbidden Zone from the first movie.
Claude Akins delivers an excellent performance as the sinister Aldo. Paul Williams is solid as well. McDowall comes off as wooden, but much of that is the fault of a script which leaves him oddly passive through much of the film.
As usual in this series, there is a moral to the story – this time, about everyone needing to live in harmony (and maybe less autocracy).
One shocker is that a child character is killed off. I'm surprised that happened in a movie obviously targeted at a younger audience, but it does establish Aldo as a complete villain.
Can you wargame it? There are definitely some battle scenes in this one, pitting radiation-sickened humans with a few ramshackle vehicles and artillery against rifle-armed ape infantry and cavalry.
This is a hard movie to like. The elements for a good movie are here, there is a good plot, but the pacing is slow and the performances unexciting.