Conquest is probably the best Planet of the Apes movie among the ones I've seen so far.
(Warning: Contains minor spoilers on the series. If you haven't watched any of the Planet of the Apes movie before I suggest watching them first before reading this review.)
First, a brief backgrounder on the Apes movies. Each one starts out with some form of time travel, that is, going back or forward in time. Each one contains some thinly veiled social commentary on the nature of man or human relations. There is the requisite tragic ending - murder of the protagonists, discovery of the fate of the human race, and even the end of the world (yes, really). The best thing I like is the feeling that anything can happen in an Apes movie, no one is spared.
Conquest starts in a semi-futuristic earth, a couple of years after the death and murder of Cornelius and Zira, the talking apes from the far future. Their son, Caesar (as he will be named later on) and only descendant is now the property of a kind and very understanding circus owner played by Ricardo Montalban, who treats the ape like his own son and strives to protect him from the harsh reality of the world outside. Caesar is now the only talking ape in existence, having descended from Cornelius.
As the story goes, people started having these lovable apes as pets to replace their dogs and cats that perished in a plague. But the humans quickly discovered that the apes were intelligent and could quickly be trained to do various menial duties. The result is that the apes were made into slaves, meant to serve man. Many of them are cruelly treated and oppressed by sadistic owners, and frequently whipped into submission. Caesar sees all this and is profoundly affected. And you see his character develop throughout the film. He starts out as a naive, scared creature, and turns into a strong courageous leader of the ape slaves.
This is a great movie. Fun to watch from beginning to end. The transformation of Caesar is astonishing. The theme of the movie is pretty dark with none of the silliness or overacting of the earlier apes movies.
My only complaint is with the character MacDonald, one of the humans who sympathizes with the apes. I thought he went slightly over the top in doing too much to help Caesar escape, certainly a treasonous act which felt to me like he betrayed the human race, and he's supposed to be a good guy? His rationale for letting Caesar escape, that of being descended from slaves, was kind of lame. They could have redid the plot to make the MacDonald character, as well as the over the top villainous city governor more realistic.
The ending is pretty good, with a great speech by Caesar in the end. I read that they redid the ending slightly and added some parts to his speech because test audiences found the original ending too harsh. This was certainly a mistake. I liked the original speech as is. This isn't a feel good movie, so there is no need to make the events lighter to watch. The movie should have ended after Caesar mouths the words "And that day is upon you now.", no need to add anything else after that. But I'll just consider this a minor re-touch to make it more hollywood friendly and sell more tickets, so I can forgive them for that. Still, an excellent movie, highly recommended. Battle for the Planet of the Apes is next.
Rating: 4/5 * * * *