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These Apes Are Going Bananas!

Wait, why do I so suddenly feel like my potassium levels are dangerously low?

I’ve got a confession to make. Are you ready for it? I’ve never seen any Planet of the Apes movies before Tim Burton jockey-shot Mark Wahlberg deep into a black hole back in 2001. Look, you can only see so many movies in a day. And you only have so many days in your lifetime. With a new Apes movie on the horizon coming out in a few weeks, I figured it was high time do another movie marathon. This time going all the way back to 1968.

The only things I really knew about Planet of the Apes (1968) is the ending, and the fact that Charlton Heston was IRL in love with guns. Lots of guns. Outside of that, I’m pretty much going into this whole thing blind. Which is how I often prefer going into these sorts of things. I really hate when people’s complaints about older films line up to not much more than “It looks really bad” or “It’s very dated.” Believe me, I’ll take “bad” practical effects over CGI any day. Also, by that logic, literally everything is dated by virtue of it being put out into sheer existence.

And honestly, I think the extensive makeup and prosthesis done for the film is actually super impressive. Heston’s delivery of the iconic line “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” hits, and it hits hard. Also, I have to give major props to both Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter. The pair played Cornelius and Zira with a masterful mixture of beautiful aplomb and pathos, aplenty. Which is especially hard to do under all that aforementioned makeup and prosthesis.

Then I started on the sequels. Full disclosure, I went in with low expectations. We’re talking subteranously low, here. Sequels tend to never be as good as the original, but I always want to give a film a fair shake regardless of its place in the timeline. I booted up Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), and boy, was I ever blown away. I’m always a sucker for a sequel that starts mere moments where the previous one left off.

I really liked James Franciscus’ performance as John Brent. Is it heresy if I say I like him better in Beneath than Heston in the original? And there’s a certain point where the film takes such a bizarre whack-job of a twist, that I can’t help but respectfully applaud it. The ending of the original film is one of those classic “best ever twist endings”, but the ending to Beneath is straight-up flat-out 70s gonzo insanity. An ending that doubles down on itself so hard I’m still thinking about it now.

Alright, alright, the series is two-for-two, but there’s no possible way they can go for the perfect banana-split-hat-trick-trifecta, right? Right? Is it a hot take to say that Escape from The Planet of the Apes... is my favourite Planet of the Apes movie? Because it is. My favourite storylines, character moments and razor-sharp dialogue. You’ve got time travelling apes going back to the sixties, hypnosis, mad-cap zany prison breakouts and bone-deep-to-the-very-marrow philosophical, moral, and ethical questions being asked.

Ricardo Montalbán shows up, and he’s just utterly delightful. Once again, I have to shoutout both McDowall and Hunter who gave utterly flawless performances here as well. And that ending. Imagine watching a Dirty Harry movie, but with homunculi. The emotional gut-punch of that disturbingly dark and utterly upsetting ending lives rent-free in my brain. Now, and forevermore.

Movie after movie, it’s just hit after hit. Conquest For the Planet of the Apes (1972) somehow goes even darker than the three before it, into some truly Kafka-esque/Orwellian nightmares. People seem to give a lot of grief to the final film in the main series, Battle for The Planet of the Apes (1973), but for a movie that’s “of its time”, it worked on every level for me. Also props to McDowell once again, but this time for playing Cesar in the last two films. What an absolutely unrivalled talent he was. That man could read me the phonebook.

Wait, hold up, there’s a Planet of the Apes television series from 1974? Well, of course I just have to watch all fourteen episodes in proper chronological order, if this is to be a real, tried, and true marathon. But that my dear, cherished reader, is a post, for another time. And as someone who’s utterly obsessed with behind-the-scenes, I’d be entirely remiss if I didn’t also include the excellent two-hour documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes (1998).

Now, say what you will about Planet of the Apes (2001), but... I’m gonna have another scalding hot take here-- I actually like that one too. Maybe it’s because I love all things, Tim Burton. Guilty as charged. Or maybe it’s because it was the first Apes film I ever actually saw on VHS. Timmy B directing Marky Mark in a sci-fi action film from the Early Aughts seems so far afield from left field, but that’s what these movies have always been.

Plus, how could you possibly pass up Wahlberg in this? Like what a pitch in the room that would have been. It’s impossible to not just do your own Wahlberg impression for an audition: “Doan-chu see? I’m an inventuh! I inventuhd time travel! I went through a black hole and fought friggin’ space monkeys, alright! It was wicked!” Also, that version of the film has two utterly unchallengeable villains in both Tim Roth as General Thade, and Michael Clarke Duncan as Attar, respectively. Plus, I always give bonus points to a movie for casting Paul Giamatti in any size, shape and/or kind of role.

The franchise took a long zoo-cage nap for the better part of a decade, before it got once again rebooted. These ones I’ve seen. Calm down. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) further cemented Andy Serkis as a motion-capture force to be reckoned with. While I do love McDowell as Cesar, Serkis unquestionably makes the role his own. And as much as I do really enjoy the newer films as modern blockbusters, I truly just miss the older look of actors in suits and costumes. Call me a sentimental sap, or somethin’.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) steps everything up at least fifteen different notches from its very opening shot. Matt Reeves has always been a director I’ve greatly admired. He takes the new franchise in super interesting directions here. Toby Kebbell is amazing as Koba. That Oner tank shot is pure art. If you remember nothing else, just picture an ape on horseback going full bore, all the while dual-wielding two heavy automatic machine guns. These movies are bananas in all the best possible of ways.

While I personally believe Dawn is the better film of Reeves’ duology, War for The Planet of the Apes (2017) still delivers some incredible action set-pieces with both fantastic emotional and narrative payoffs. Plus, it was shot largely in Alberta. So, that’s also super cool.

However this new one shakes out, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024) is sure to be a big spring/summer hit. Sometimes all I want are big, loud, fun action extravaganzas. That doesn’t mean they can’t also have both brains and heart in large supply. Every part of this franchise qualifies in spades and more.

Wait, why do I so suddenly feel like my potassium levels are dangerously low? When pray tell was the last time I actually ate a banana? I’ve got some blue stickers to peel off.


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