Revolt of the Empire of the Apes (2017)

Who says sequels can’t be better than the originals?

Now, when I say that, a lot of people will naturally think of The Empire Strikes Back or The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2), but this time we’re talking about a film by…

The Polonia Brothers.

Okay, that’s strange.  Almost as strange as their weird career, now that I think about it.  After all, twin brothers in a little Pennsylvania town made a weird no-budget splatter film and somehow spun it into a career that’s lasted over thirty years.

Which is a lot of strange, no-budget, direct to video movies.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, while the rational part of your mind is busy telling you that their films are just terrible, there is something about them — what exactly, is hard to say.  If you’ve seen one, you’re probably watched half a dozen.  They are an addictive pleasure.

Not long ago, I reviewed their version of The Planet of the Apes, Empire of the Apes, which seemed a fairly tame and straightforward sort of film, at least by their standard.  After all, these are the same people who made a film about a children’s entertainer returning from the dead as a giant fluffy bunny.  So I really didn’t expect too much from the sequel.

I was wrong.

The first film ended with the Apes running a planet once dominated by humans, after they get there by going through a Black Hole.

Well, now they’re saying it’s Earth, and there’s still fierce fighting going on between the last of the human resistance and the Apes.  “Fierce fighting” as in endless repeats of the same World War II tank, some so-so CGI footage of Apache Helicopters, and shots of soldiers in wide-brimmed, World War I British helmets.  Oh, and a  few guys with ape masks on.

After a strong opening chase sequence which doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the film, Steve Diasparra’s execution at the the end of the last film is repeated, but proves not to be fatal.  He and the other survivors of the last film team up with the last survivors of the resistance to try one last assault on the Apes’ stronghold.

All six of them.

And, of course, somewhere in here we have the space battle.

Yeah, we know it doesn’t fit at all.  But I guess they had the CGI animation of transforming spaceships and stuck it in anyway.

After all, this is a Polonia Brothers’ film.

And it all ends with an ending stolen from one of the original series of Ape films.

Not that this is a surprise, exactly, as the trip through the Black Hole seems to have come from the Tim Burton Apes film.  However, in this film it seems to have become just a routine transportation hub.

As in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Once again, we have most of the Brothers’ stock company of human actors hiding behind masks of one sort or another (this time around most human survivors wear ski masks all the time!). This leads to a rather strange moment when Jeff Kirkendall (who plays Trask, the ape helping to overthrow his former boss) and James Carolus, (who stars as the Ape General, Baal) put in an appearance as a pair of resistance soldiers and Jeff ends up talking to himself.  

I think James even shoots himself.

And remember, they’re doing this with some obvious editing and a few cheap video effects!

These are the same ape masks we saw in Empire of the Apes.  Now I know that I noted in my review of the previous film that the masks were pretty good in a limited sort of way — the basic design was good, even if they lacked the animatronics which would have been used in a big Hollywood production.

Well, they don’t look good here.  The problem is that the mouth movement was always minimal, but we see far too many scenes with the apes talking in close-up in this one.  And the gap at the back of the jaw, which was hidden before shows most of the time, as does the edge of the mouth lining inside the jaw when they are talking.  Most of them don’t look as good as they did in the first film and may just have been wearing out, or may have been poorly stored, with, perhaps, important bits and pieces going missing on some of them.

(While, as I noted in my previous review, I suspect that the masks may have come from the earlier Polonia effort:  Gorilla Warfare: The Battle of the Apes, I doubt I will be able to confirm this as I have since learned that it appears to be a “lost” film.  Currently you can’t  find it on Amazon, not even on VHS.  So I won’t be reviewing any time soon unless someone out there has a copy they can loan me!)

Now old time Polonia Brothers fans will be pleased to see a few of their trademark elements: this time we get lots of scenes of people wandering around the woods, talking.  Lots of scenes of people wandering around the woods.  More scenes of people wandering around the woods than most of their films.  After all, Polonia Brothers films always have lots of scenes of people wandering around the woods.   They wouldn’t really be complete without scenes of people wandering around the woods.

However, I would have to say “scenes of people wandering around the woods” another three or four times for you to really get the feeling for watching one of their films.

Another classic Polonia-ism is the scene which really doesn’t fit in which was added to give either Mark or his late brother John his cameo in the film.

Mind you, it isn’t unusual to find the odd jarring scene without either brother.  But that’s another story.

This time, it’s a little harder to be sure because one again most of the cast is hiding behind masks, except for the main human characters.  I thought I recognized Mark’s voice muffled by an ape mask, but I’m reasonably certain that the two resistance soldiers in the long scene which breaks up the flow of the film’s climax are Mark and his son Anthony.  Anthony started out as a child actor in Feeders 2: Slay Bells and now is busy following in his Father’s footsteps with his own directoral debut, Zillafoot.

Which, yeah, I’ll get to one of these days.

There’s been a bit of a debate among the Brothers’ fans whether their films have been as good since John’s death in 2009.  Without question, this one is one of their better efforts:  it has a bigger and more complex plot than the original, with a lot of goofy ideas, a nice bit of irony, and a few surprising twists.  You can tell they were having fun with this one and let’s face it, the fact that it looks a little more threadbare makes it feel just a little more comfortable, like the old pair of slippers you’ve worn until they’re shaped more like your feet than your feet are.  While, yes, there’s a lot of talk, it all moves quickly and comes in at a brisk 67 minutes, so you aren’t given much chance to regret this one.

In fact, it is one of their better films, and a good place to start for those willing to risk entering the strange world of the Polonia Brothers.

I will warn you, though: alien planet or tropical island, it all looks like Wellsboro, Pa.

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