CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972): The Revolt of the Cin-APES – Roundtable Reviews [Two Cents]

20th Century Studios

Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

The Pick: Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (1972)

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, the 10th film in the Apes franchise, is upon us. (And it is glorious, in my estimation). Our team curated a selection of titles from one of cinema’s greatest and most enduring franchises that we most wanted to discuss! We’ve gone full CinApes (and they told us never to go full CinApes). Join us for our Revisit of the Planet of the Apes! We’re excited to discuss these titles together thanks to the Two Cents movie club format.

Featured Guests

Chris Barreras

What do you do when your previous installment kills off your two main characters? In the case of 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, you do a time jump and recast your lead as the son of the previous lead. Not many franchises make it to a fourth film and often by the time they hit a fourth film, it’s a wash, rinse and repeat scenario. But what director J. Lee Thompson and writer Paul Dehn accomplish is set the franchise on the path to destruction, where apes will eventually rule and take over the earth. It all comes together for, in my opinion, the second best film of the original five next to the iconic original.

Using the tease from the end of Escape where the ape child of Cornelius and Zira is secretly swapped and left in the care of Ricardo Montalban’s sweetheart Armando. Roddy McDowall is allowed to play a different side of the character he’s been playing for 3 previous films this time as his Caesar is curious but scared of humans and when the time comes, he’s able to use years of physical torment under layers of prosthetics to turn in a commanding, rage-filled performance. Limited by the mask makeup, he uses his eyes, his voice and physicality to show how Caesar will be the ape to lead household pets/slaves into a full bloody and violent revolt. The humans lead by Don Murray’s Governor Beck (a conniving weasel of a villain) and sympathetic MacDonald played by Hari Rhodes don’t really stand a chance once the eventual third act coup takes place.

J. Lee Thompson does what he can with the time and limited budget (even for the time it’s lower than the previous film) and maximizes the uses of the smaller location settings, which unfortunately leads to a sense of deja vu when on set. But once the action sets in, it’s a brutal and violent display of Apes against humans that has only been teased in the previous films. Taking the franchise in a much darker and violent path where the previous film was almost a fish out of water comedy till the shocking climax, this one has violence throughout. The interrogation scenes, the torture of the apes, all of it are on full display. So when Caesar decides it is time for the Apes to rise, you are on the edge of your seat and personally siding with Caesar as the film has done a commanding job of painting the humans as the animals, while the Apes are indeed more human than we ever realized.

Chris Barreras is the Co-Host of Imperial Scum: A Star Wars podcast, follow on social media @Gingerdome81

20th Century Studios

Nathan Flynn

Much has been said critically about the 1968 original Planet of the Apes film, which essentially birthed the sci-fi blockbuster franchise. However, the dirty little secret few critics dare mention at parties is that the fourth film in the original franchise, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, is just as good, if not better, than the first film—especially its unrated cut, which stands as a bold and unrelenting masterpiece of 1970s sci-fi cinema. Directed by J. Lee Thompson (known for Cape Fear, Guns of the Navarone, and Death Wish 4: The Crackdown), the film plunges audiences into a dystopian 1991 where apes serve as an enslaved working class, echoing the darkest realms of societal oppression. The film follows Caesar (Roddy McDowall), the offspring of the previous film’s protagonists, as he experiences the worst of humanity’s oppression, leading a visceral revolt against human tyranny. This culminates in gripping monkey shoot-outs against armed cops in riot gear amidst the backdrop of an isolated University of California, Irvine campus (seen most recently in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie).

Thompson’s direction infuses the film with a raw intensity that feels like if John Carpenter made a dystopian remake of Spartacus, with apes. Though its unflinching bloody portrayal of a society teetering on the brink of collapse might seem like a cheap exercise in bloody violence, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes delivers a searing commentary on the cyclical nature of human violence, with imagery that resonates eerily with real-world parallels.

The film’s political messages are delivered with fiery precision, confronting themes of race and police brutality head-on, with a relevance that reverberates powerfully even in today’s world. As Caesar leads his fellow apes in a struggle for freedom, the film forces audiences to confront uncomfortable truths about the nature of power, oppression, and revolution. In its unapologetic exploration of these themes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes transcends its genre trappings to emerge as a cinematic hand grenade that remains as relevant and impactful today as it was upon its initial release.

Nathan Flynn, a comedian and film critic, known for his contributions to One of Us.Net and hosting the podcast Mission: Impodible, can be found on X: @nathanflynn, with more links available at

20th Century Studios

The Team

Ed Travis

“First pampered as pets, then abused as servants, now oppressed as slaves.”

This is a studio-funded tentpole blockbuster that is about a brutal slave revolt against an oppressive system of control. 

It will forever be among my favorite entries in a deeply beloved franchise for that very reason. What a world, in which a wild, creative, occasionally ridiculous studio sci-fi franchise found the space in which to stage a bloody revolt that blatantly calls into question our own unequal society and depicts the torching and burning of that system for audiences to cheer on!

I will admit that without any forethought I chose to revisit the “unrated” version of Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes and without doing any real reading or research, had forgotten that its ending diverges wildly from the theatrical version. I’ve since revisited the original ending and let the implications of the different versions wash over me. But let me take some time to note that the unrated version of Conquest features a vengeful and self-righteous Caesar encourage his army to murder their masters and offers a speech of decisive cruelty and lack of mercy. We see Caesar become the despot, the king. “We shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty. And that day is upon you now!” It’s as bleak an ending as they come, showing us a protagonist who, after having his parents murdered in the last installment and being raised by a compassionate human in hiding, becomes ensnared in a slave system and chooses violence and oppression to stamp out the injustices done to him and his kind. It really couldn’t be a more hardcore storyline for a major mainstream sci-fi franchise. 

The theatrical ending still features the uprising but instead Caesar’s mate utters her first word, “No”, when the throngs are wanting to kill their oppressor. The species sort of takes one step further in evolution right then and there, and Caesar chooses mercy, and offers a very different speech: “Now we will put away our hatred. Now we will put down our weapons… we who are not human can afford to be humane… so cast out your vengeance, for tonight, we have seen the birth of the planet of the apes!”

It’s clear that the more compassionate ending is the canon ending, as Battle for the Planet of the Apes takes place entirely in a future beyond Conquest where Caesar is attempting to rule over a society that integrates humans. But hot damn, that unrated ending is one of the gutsiest and most bleak endings in a series where the last entry ended in the on screen murders of our protagonists and a baby chimp (Cornelius and Zera, Caesar’s time-traveling parents from the films’ earlier entries), and the entry before that ended with the literal nuclear destruction of the entire planet. I love the cinema of the 1970s.

(@Ed_Travis on X)
20th Century Studios

Julian Singleton

Mainlining the Apes series over the last week has really illuminated how provocative this franchise tries to get with each new installment. With Conquest, however, the humanity/civil rights angle reaches its most literal manifestation, with more than a few shortcomings as a result. 

Past Apes films manage to evoke such a sprawling wonder and horror out of less-than-stellar resources. The last film, Escape, cannily used a modern-day setting and a sharp focus on Cornelius and Zira’s acclimation to life in the past to pull off a challenging, high-stakes, and emotional “kill baby Hitler” style story. With Conquest, we’re thrust 20 years later into a world where Apes have leapt forward in evolution with little explanation and equally little filled in about young Caesar’s (Roddy McDowall) circus life with Armando (an always-game Ricardo Montalban). Here, we have a world where all pets have died while apes lived–while they initially took those critters’ affectionate domestic place, hatred for the possible future foretold by Cornelius and Zira quickly caused humanity to pivot apes into slavery. While this is an intriguing idea, one can’t help but feel like the film takes place within one city block, unwilling to explore the ramifications  and justifications of its premise beyond the scope it’s set up for itself. While the film’s last act fulfills the Conquest of the title with thrilling immediacy, it feels like so much of Conquest spins its wheels haphazardly implementing 20 years’ worth of lore, discarding all sorts of equally intriguing possibilities along the way.

What made Beneath and Escape so thrilling for me in relation to the OG Planet was how both films took place in such short succession after one another. There wasn’t enough structural room to doubt its premises, and they all felt like natural continuations of the central story while pushing themes of humanity, depersonalization, and temporal cause/effect into intriguing places. With such a jump in time, Conquest revealed the fraying edges of what ideas were left to pursue in the Apes franchise.

That said, the final act is pretty bonkers, and I’m glad I went with the advice to watch the extended unrated cut. With everything that’s been set up in this bizarre world–and how unapologetically bleak these films have gotten–there’s no room for the mercy studio execs felt compelled to show in Conquest’s original theatrical form. It’s a film about Caesar’s understandable radicalization to save his species from humans. As such, McDowall’s visceral performance wonderfully charts a journey that would’ve seemed horrifying to his original Cornelius in Planet and Escape; that in order to conquer and liberate, Caesar must become as dispassionate and cruel as his own captors.

(@gambit1138 on X)
20th Century Studios

Austin Vashaw

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is a strange one in the franchise. Taken on its own, it’s quite fascinating, but it’s a bizarre outlier in the overall narrative, taking place just a couple decades after Escape but with what feels like (and should have been) centuries’ worth of development in between: apes, though not yet speaking, are now far more intelligent, and enslaved by humans; walking upright, wearing clothing, carrying out complex tasks, and even reading basic instructions in the service of their human masters.

Even with the explanation of a major plague changing the world, this sounds like a nonsensical timeline. But getting past that, this is a film with a lot to offer, a much darker entry with a revolutionary theme. Budgetary constraints may have actually helped in some respects: the brutalist architecture and lack of locational variety give it a surreal, nightmarish, post-apocalyptic flavor, especially during Caesar’s rebellion. Unlike his parents Zira and Cornelius, Caesar (still voiced by Cornelius’s Roddy McDowall) is generally untrusting of and indisposed to humans with few exceptions, especially after seeing their cruelty firsthand.

In 1972, action and exploitation films, and in particular the blaxploitation genre, were reaching a fever pitch with new attitudes and incendiary and violent imagery. It seems like some of the energy in the zeitgeist rubbed off on this tale, which depicts an uprising of apes facing off against armed riot officers. This direction makes sense given the franchise’s obvious critiques of racism and systemic brutality, as well as having action extraordinaire J. Lee Thompson in the director’s chair. I watched the unrated cut, which surprised me with some bloody violence including an ape being shot in the face, and I kind forgot how bleak the ending is (softened as it is by the more harmoniously-minded followup Battle which pumped the brakes a bit and portrayed a calmer Caesar who surrounds himself with kind-hearted advisors and demonstrates a willingness to live and work with humankind for their mutual benefit).

(@VforVashaw on X)

Upcoming Picks: CinAPES, aka Revisit Of The Planet Of The Apes

Planet Of The Apes (2001)

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

And We’re Out.

Previous post ‘KINGDOM’ Proves the PLANET OF THE APES Saga Has Lost None of its Vitality