In this direct sequel to a sci-fi classic, Brent (James Franciscus) follows the trail of fellow astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) and ends up in a very similar predicament. In the process of looking for his colleague, he unearths a society that could mean doom for the entire planet…

Beneath the Planet of the Apes is pretty much as direct a sequel as is possible. Indeed, even with a particularly compact runtime of 94 minutes, the first several are taken up by repeating the ending of the original. In fact, that is my biggest problem with this film that permeates through everything it tries to accomplish. As short as the movie is, it feels padded in every way possible. Let me explain.

We begin with the return of Charlton Heston as Taylor. Legend says that the actor had zero interest in a sequel and was only convinced to return by the promise of a reduced role. Unfortunately, his role was reduced in the worst way possible. Having seen this fact before watching the film, I assumed that Heston would show up for a glorified cameo and be killed in the first act. Instead, he wanders about the desert for the first 15 minutes before literally disappearing (and presumed dead by the new main protagonist) only to be shoehorned into the final act of the film.

I gave a passing mention to our new main protagonist, and he unfortunately feels like “Heston-lite”. This would make sense if Charlton had completely refused to return, as Franciscus would be portraying an archetype for the budding franchise. However, with the original actor not only returning but playing alongside his replacement, it only serves to highlight the significant drop in charisma and screen presence for the man expected to carry the majority of the plot.

A plot that unfortunately feels threadbare. In fact, the story could probably be told quite comfortably within a 50-minute (without ads) TV episode of the era just by truncating some of the downtime and exposition. Considering we don’t even reach the “beneath” part of the title until 43 minutes in, you wouldn’t think this would be the right time for Brent to start talking to himself and having the same existential crisis as his colleague from the first film but that’s exactly what happens. Then again, at least Brent serves a purpose. At least he doesn’t feel superfluous.

Which is why it pains me to say that both Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) are exactly that here. It’s strange too because you’re initially given the impression that both will have key involvement in the film, only for them to help Brent for no other reason than he’s another talking human who coincidentally showed up at their house and claims to know Taylor. Finally, Zira briefly resurfaces to help our hero out of a tight spot and quite literally blows the rest of the film a kiss goodbye.

You’re probably noticing a trend here. This film is stuck between wanting to be a film in its own right and needing to connect to its predecessor. Which is why I commend it for trying to expand on the “anti-war” sentiment highlighted by the ending of the first film. Unfortunately, if the racism/slavery allegory was on-the-nose in the original, then the message of “war is bad” is like being hit on the head by a brick here. When the plot involves literal worship of a nuke, you know you’re laying it on thick.

What’s more, a further attempt to differentiate the sequel firmly leads the plot down sci-fi “B-movie” territory. I’m far from a cinematic snob when it comes to this sort of thing but it’s slightly disappointing to see the film resort to genre tropes like telepathy and mutants when the original story focused on a relatable message whilst largely avoiding them.

It’s a shame that I’ve been so critical so far, because I didn’t hate this movie. It’s competently made. The ape make up effects are still top notch and Charlton Heston and Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius still get a couple of moments to shine in their brief time on-screen. And the music by Leonard Rosenman is at least comparable to that of the legendary Jerry Goldsmith. As I’ve alluded to throughout this review, this is a film that seems to have understood the component parts of its parent but overlooked the need for a simple story at its core. Beneath the Planet of the Apes obviously wanted to go “big” as a sequel, but seemingly didn’t know how to achieve such a feat in a coherent manner.

And in conclusion, maybe that sums up this entire sequel. A lack of confidence and focus on a vision. There’s evidence to support this, as the budget was effectively halved by Fox. And so, in the end, we got an adequate sequel for a film that was never really designed to be a franchise. Despite trying its best to serve fans what they expect while mixing things up, the superficiality of these attempts leaves the overall experience feeling rather hollow and the heavier lean towards science fiction in the third act adds that slight hokey B-movie aftertaste that the original so deftly avoided.

Ranking: 3 stars out of 5

Disney Plus Presentation

Beneath the Planet of the Apes is available on Disney+ in a maximum resolution of 1080p HD and standard 5.1 surround sound on compatibility devices. This is in line with the Blu Ray releases in the US and is actually better than the standard DVD sets officially available in Europe (though you can find region-free Blu-Ray box sets of the entire franchise from third-party sellers on Amazon if you want to take the chance).

Once again, Beneath the Planet of the Apes does not include an “Extras” tab on its page. Therefore, not even a standard trailer or “promo clip” is available.

Presentation Ranking: 4 stars out of 5

“Beneath the Planet of the Apes” is available to stream on Disney+ now in many countries including the UK and Ireland, Canada, The Netherlands and more.

What are your thoughts on “Beneath the Planet of the Apes”?

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Jon Potter

Jon has been a Disney fan all of his life. From wearing out those expensive VHS tapes and visiting Disneyland Paris as a child to becoming a huge fan of the MCU in adulthood, Disney has helped shape some of the happiest, most fun moments he can remember.

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