Going back to this one post-Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (and Rise) was certainly a bizarre experiment seeing as Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes is essentially the basis for these reboots even if it has a pretty different vibe and plot to it.
As with every Planet Of The Apes sequel, the film starts with some hugely unconvincing expositional dialog only there to explain what happened between movies and justify stuff that was foreseen in Escape From The Planet Of The Apes. Roddy McDowall is back, not as Cornelius mind you but as that very ape's son Caesar, who was being kept hidden by circus ringmaster Armando (Ricardo Montalban reprising his role) as the humans started freaking out about the future and, following a disease affecting cats and dogs, using apes as slaves performing all kinds of mindless manual tasks for them. Ludicrous? Definitely, but no more than time-travelling apes. The thing is, this whole pet scenario makes very little sense and the fact that all the non-talking apes in this movie look exactly like the talking apes from the original film is distracting seeing as those are meant to be actual pre-evolution animals. Caesar should really be the only one looking the way he does here, frankly.
I hate to say it seeing as I wasn't a big fan of that movie at all but... Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes had a more competent set up for such an epic revolt.
After a tour of what the world has become, Caesar is eventually captured by creepy dudes in black turtleneck sweaters who believe he might either be some unruly ape who needs to be taught a lesson or that mythical talking ape everyone's been yammering on about on TV. Disgusted by the injustice he witnesses, Caesar finally turns against the humans and leads a violent mini revolution. After a shaky start, Conquest soon builds to a surprisingly intense and surprisingly dark denouement as apes and men face each other in an all-out localised war complete with bloody deaths, torture and... some guy with a flame-thrower. This movie really shouldn't work and yet, by the end, chances are you'll be hooked. Not sold by McDowall as an intimidating threat early on, I was loving his Richard III-style antics by the end and he ends up giving what is easily his best performance in those movies. The more consistently serious tone works very well as we completely give up on Escape's more playful approach which really wouldn't have been appropriate in a film evoking imagery of slavery and racial struggles.
While uneven, Conquest is still one of the strongest films in the franchise in that it quietly builds up to such a perfectly chaotic, dramatic climax that it ends up feeling far more substantial and powerful than some of the other sequels/prequels/reboots. Again, a more convincing lead-up would have been nice but it's still well worth seeing, especially if you've enjoyed all the Planet Of The Apes movies up to this point.
A tense, nail-biting follow-up.