The original movie was a huge success in 1968 and the producers were keen to replicate this popularity via a sequel. Though Beneath the Planet of the Apes was nowhere as good as the original and in fact, overall a deeply flawed movie, it did well at the box office. Well enough for another three sequels that followed.
Please note : Spoilers for the first two movies in the Planet of the Apes franchise in the following story analysis.
Wash Rinse and Repeat
Beneath the Planet of the Apes would provide the structure of the sequels that would be commonplace decades later. Repeat the basic plot structure with slight variations to keep things interesting for the audience.
This sequel, however, was not a good example of that formula. Though it features a new main character viz. the astronaut Brent (James Franciscus), Brent is essentially the same character as the astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston), the protagonist in the first movie.
Except that this time, Brent goes through what Taylor went through but in a shortened fashion. That is, he meets Nova (Linda Harrison), is captured by the apes, brought before Cornelius and Zira (Kim Hunter) and escapes. Brent says as much when he is brought before the council of mutants.
Silly Plot Holes.
Ah yes, the mutants. Introduced basically to provide conflict with and contrast to the apes, these are human beings mutated by the nuclear holocaust that occured thousands of years before. All well and good but there are problems.
For example, why did the mutants wear face masks? Who were they hiding their real faces from? After, weren’t they living in seclusion? This made no sense and it was never explained in the movie.
Also, the forbidden zone – characterised in the first movie as radiation-disfigured land, and anathema to the apes – is conveniently found by Brent and Nova as a subterranean city not too far away from where the apes live. Huh? Why didn’t the apes find that underground access? Again, illogical.
War! What is it good for?
There is an attempt for the characters and plot of the movie to reflect social commentary of the times but it falls flat. For example, the scene when young chimpanzees protest the warmongering gorillas seems tacked on for effect only. The lack of development suggests that the producers were not that serious about this thematic concept.
Also, the mutants themselves seemed to represent the hypocrisy of organised religion. One of the mutants declares that they never kill but they make their enemies kill one another before telepathically pushing Brent and Taylor to fight each other. Of course, in organised religion, it is God that commands His followers to commit atrocious acts in His name and that justifies it all!
No happy endings…
Like many scifi movies of that era, Beneath the Planet of the Apes has a very dark ending. Basically, Taylor activates the nuclear weapon and Earth is destroyed. Ever since then atomic bomb was used to end World War II, the destruction of the world by nuclear weapons has been a strong theme in popular culture. And many scifi movie themes of the day reflected this less than optimistic concept. It was not until Star Wars in 1977 that scifi movies tended to present a positive outcome for mankind.
As I mentioned before, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a flawed movie but contains enough intriguing ideas to keep its short 95 minute running time tolerable. Personally, it is extremely nostalgic as I watched it as a young boy and was delighted to re-watch it, despite its weaknesses. Recommended.
… still there’s more …