Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
Where, when and what: We begin with a recap of the first film’s final few minutes, so Taylor (Charlton Heston) has just found the half-buried Statue of Liberty. Soon, another spaceship from Earth’s past crash-lands (off-screen for budgetary reasons). This one contains the Taylor-like Brent played by the Heston-like James Franciscus. He claims the year is 3955 – contradicting the first film, which had Taylor landing in 3979.
Humans: At the start of the story, Taylor and his native friend Nova (Linda Harrison) ride off into an area of desert called the Forbidden Zone and Taylor vanishes. (Charlton Heston was reluctant to return for a sequel and agreed only if his contribution was little more than a cameo.) So the lead character this time round is Brent, an astronaut sent to find out what happened to Taylor when he didn’t return to Earth. This is a plot hole: Taylor’s mission was to travel so far and so fast that he knew thousands of years would have passed before his return. After some ape-related escapades, Brent eventually stumbles across the buried remains of New York City’s Queenboro Plaza subway station. Living there is a cult of psychic weirdos. They’re descendants of the human survivors of a nuclear war and they idolise a 20th-century atomic bomb. They sing hymns about it and everything. Initially they look normal, but then remove their fake skin to reveal radiation-scared bodies. Brent also finds someone else in the underground world: after an hour of absent screen time, Taylor returns. Handily he knows Brent from before their respective missions. Together they team up to resist the cult, while the now-militaristic apes attack the city. A dying Taylor sets off the bomb, which destroys the entire planet.
Apes: Dr Zira and Cornelius return from Planet of the Apes. They’re now married, though sadly they don’t feature in the story much. Kim Hunter is back to play Zira, but Roddy McDowall was busy on another project so Cornelius has been recast with David Watson. (Of course, McDowall still plays the character in the clips reused from the first film!) Meanwhile, other apes are debating what to do with the savage humans who live nearby – and whether to conquer the Forbidden Zone, which they know holds host to another culture. The plans for military action are countered by some hippy-type protests, placards and all.
Review: For its first half, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a rehash of the original movie. But because of viewer familiarity, the story beats – the deaths of the astronauts’ crewmates, an encounter with native humans, the realisation that apes are in charge – are rattled off more swiftly. It’s enjoyable and engaging stuff, if shallower than the first film. Then, after 40 minutes, the plot heads into new territory. Sadly, the long sequence in the subway station sees the pace sag significantly and the film becomes a sub-Star Trek morality play. An anti-nuclear message is really hammered home, but the bomb subplot has little to do with either the apes or Brent. The latter stumbles across it and does little to affect the story. The second half of the film limps to a climax.
Six bloody nightmares out of 10