To buy into the premise of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, forget all logic and most of what you learned from the original classic and the horrendous Beneath the Planet of the Apes sequel. After all, Charton Heston destroyed the Earth with the Alpha and Omega bomb in the sequel because he didn't want to star in any more ape movies. Despite the nonexistent special effects, exceedingly weak script, and notoriously bad acting by Heston and Franciscus, the series didn't end with "the end."
Since that movie bomb made money, Twentieth Century Fox had to figure out a way to resurrect some of the primary primates and continue the series. For that reason we must give writer Paul Denn some latitude, as he had no intentions of making subsequent sequels when hired to write the first sequel. And actually, this episode is the best of the sequels as it restores some of the humor and characterizations that make the original classic enjoyable, and it contains another memorable ending.
This time we begin in 1970s Earth on that familiar Planet of the Apes shoreline with the mysterious return of Taylor's spacecraft and the emergence of three astronauts. As the military gathers to greet the lost-in-space comrades, the astronauts remove their helmets to reveal some familiar ape faces—Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter), Cornelius (Roddy McDowell), and Milo (Sal Mineo in his last major film).
Never mind that Taylor's spaceship sank into Lake Powell, that the apes had shown no interest in space technology, and that somehow the stolen and mangled spacesuits had reappeared intact. The creative staff decided to go backwards in time and ignore the inconsistencies rather than find some way to explain survivors after the Big One destroys the Earth.
So we have a parallel situation with the first Planet of the Apes film, except this time the apes are shocked to go back to a time when the primitive humans were superior to apes. They are placed in a zoo because the military assume that is the proper home for them, but soon Dr. Zira cannot keep her mouth shut and their superior intellect is discovered. Unfortunately for Milo, this occurs after he has been strangled by a gorilla in an adjoining cage.
At first everything is fine and the humans find Dr. Zira and Cornelius endearing. This deteriorates rapidly when the humans discover that the apes will take over the planet, and somehow will involve the descendents of the talking chimpanzees. And Dr. Zira is pregnant. Without going into any revealing details for any who haven't seen the film, let me just note that it maintains the generally unhappy tone of the previous two films sans Heston cursing and beating his hands on the beach or pushing the Earth-destroying button.
While this film isn't as satisfying as the original Planet of the Apes, it does have its charms—mostly by giving Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall some humorous touches. I did get a few chuckles when Dr. Zira humors the good-hearted scientists on their rudimentary intelligence tests, and then blurts out that she doesn't like bananas when they wonder why she won't claim her prize. Both have some fun when testifying to the governmental investigation committee, and they do carry the film well.
Another delight is Ricardo Montalban's appearance near the end of the film as the circus entrepreneur Armando, but he's not given a lot to do in the film. I can only speculate what a screenwriter could have done if they could have paired Montalban up with Charlton Heston. Add William Shatner in there, and we'd all be keeling over in laughter with the inevitable overacting performances this trio could produce.
As it is, Escape from Planet of the Apes is palatable fare and provides a few light moments. Don't expect any heavy thinking from this episode, as there are no shattering new insights. That one-trick paradigm shift was accomplished in Planet of the Apes. This second sequel serves as little more than a light appetizer with a memorable and poignant ending.