BATTLE FOR THE
CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES attempted to bring the Apes saga to its climax, but BATTLE, the final film of the series, kicked the ball away. Instead of giving us a climax that explained when and how humans became dumb and apes grew to dominate the world, BATTLE presents us a dull little story about a military conflict between a bunch of apes and some malformed humans who live underground. In other words, it reprises the story of BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES but without that film's grand camp factor. The film offers a non-climax that is as exciting as a documentary on soggy toast, with as much depth as your average Rod McKuen lyric.
What can be expected from a film in which the main orangutan is played by singer-songwriter Paul Williams, the main gorilla by TV star Claude Akins and the main human by Second City pioneer and TV character actor Severn Darden? It's as if the cast was chosen with the same exacting science as your average game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. True, Dardern played a politician in the previous film, and reprises the role here, but he plays his role as if he always had a secret desire to fight Adam West and Burt Ward on TV's Batman. His scenes are even often shot in the same kind of odd, slanted angled as that series. Half the time he looks board out of his mind, the other half he acts as if he is playing in a sequel to HELP!. Akin takes his paycheck and runs as the stupid and violent General Aldo, doing little with a part that calls for little. Williams, however, surprised me. As the logical and scientific Virgil, he creates a memorable, if sometimes irritatingly chatty, character that comes off as one of the stronger ape characterization of the entire series. Either Williams really, really believed in the material or he was just a dedicated actor doing his best, but he deserves more respect than he usually gets from fans of the series, including myself.
Roddy McDowall, of course, was the consomate professional and does his usual wonderful work playing Caesar, son of Cornelius, the ape played by McDowall in the first and third films. Natalie Trundy makes her fourth appearance in an Apes film, doing her best Kim Hunter impression as Lisa, Caesar's wife.
But good performances cannot rescue this film because everything else is working against it. Although the budget on this film was higher than the previous one, there is still an element of cheapness throughout the film, from the rubber masks used for apes in the background to the half-hearted makeup created for the mutated humans. There are no distinct sets or setpieces, no memorable lines, no thrilling action sequences and no real point. In the end, you are left wondering why they even bothered, and why such talented people such as John Huston, Lew Ayres and (let's face it) Roddy McDowall even signed on to this sorry project. ½ - JB