In a brilliant solution for continuing the storyline after the ending of BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, three intelligent chimpanzees from Earth's future take off in Charlton Heston's salvaged spacecraft just prior to Earth's destruction; they wind up hurled backward in time to 1973 California and - in an interesting twist on the original theme - now find themselves the strange visitors in a strange world ruled by bombastic human beings.
Lovable simians Zira and Cornelius (expertly played by Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall) lose their friend Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo!) early on in a tragic accident, and find themselves in a strange situation when mankind first welcomes them as celebrities and garnishes them with gifts, but ultimately begins to fear when it is learned that Zira is pregnant with an ape offspring that could grow to overtake humanity.
We really grow to sympathize with the plight of the chimpanzee couple, and we fear along with them and the safety of their child when they become hunted fugitives later in the story. Eric Braeden is very good as the quintessential villain out to kill the ape family at any cost.
Some people enjoy picking on the APES sequels as they continued, but I've always felt this series consistently remained very intelligent and had something powerful to say about race relations and prejudice. People want to know how apes could ever manage to send Taylor's ship into orbit; I say that if you can suspend disbelief long enough to accept the notion of intelligent apes, then it shouldn't be that far a reach to accept that Dr. Milo was the genius of his time who just could pull it off; the Thomas Edision of his type, if you will.
The timeline in the five apes films is often admittedly contradictory, but there are ways that fans of the Apes movies have been able to make them work. For example, in this film Cornelius seems to talk about Ape History and Evolution in a way that actually doesn't follow suit during the next two installments. That's because the very arrival of Zira and Cornelius onto present-day Earth of 1973, and the subsequent birth of their baby, will accelerate the procedure from how Cornelius remembered it, as we'll see in the next two chapters. The circumstances for the future will be sped up and changed, and the apes will evolve at a much quicker rate.
Some of the other dubious complaints are aimed at the "lesser budgets," or supposed "TV Movie Look" of the sequels from this point on -- but this story in ESCAPE does not require mind-numbing special effects or hordes of CGI-rendered ape figures swarming Los Angeles to make it effective. It's got a lot of heart and good writing with characters we care about, and that's all it needs. ***1/2 out of ****