More than a prequel, more than a remake or even a reboot, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is stunning, moving and cautionary tale of man and his hubris which ultimately causes his downfall.
Strictly speaking the film is a remake of the fourth film of the original Apes series Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and it completely changes the reason why the main character of the chimpanzee called Caesar is intelligent. In the original, for non-fans, the reason for Caesar’s intelligence and ability to speak is because his parents were super intelligent apes who time traveled to the modern era. It makes perfect sense in that film’s logic only it never explains why the other enslaved apes are nearly human in appearance and intelligent.
In this film, the reason for Caesar’s rise is due to genetic engineering and therein lies the movie’s mantra about mankind’s folly and the unexpected consequences of actions both good and bad.
Dr. Will Rodman (played with compassion by James Franco) is a scientist looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. He develops a retrovirus and administers it to a laboratory chimp with exciting results since she quickly shows signs of human-level intelligence. Unfortunately she is killed but not before giving birth to a baby chimp. Unwilling to have the baby infant put to sleep, Rodman sneaks him home. Soon he discovers that the chimp (that is then named Caesar) has inherited and surpassed his mother’s uncanny intelligence.
Years pass and Rodman is trying to perfect the retrovirus as he raises Caesar and administers the cure to his ailing father (John Lithgow) who also forms his own bond with the ape. Sadly this bond brings out Caesar’s primal and protective nature which causes him to be removed from Rodman’s home and imprisoned in an ape facility. The cruel treatment he and other apes receive from the handlers there hardens Caesar against mankind and foments a simian revolution.
Before long a new version of the retrovirus is developed in Rodman’s company that can be administered as an inhalant. However, while this new strain boosts simian intelligence it turns out to be lethal to humans. At the same time, Caesar builds alliances with the other imprisoned apes (one of which is a sympathetic friendly orangutan called Maurice, who is naturally smart)and is able to escape from the facility. Caesar steals samples of the new virus and uses them to liberate his own kind. The results are one of the most thrilling and rousing uprisings seen on film.
One can’t help but root for the apes while at the same time be taken aback by their brutality and sheer power. Of course, it’s a story that speaks out against the way animals are treated not just by the medical/scientific community but how we as a species view our fellow creatures in zoos, as pets and in the wild.
Kudos should go all around to everyone who made this film possible from the actors (Franco, Lithgow, Frieda Pinto, Tom Felton, etc.) to writers Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver to director Rupert Wyatt (these three have reinvigorated the Apes saga in one fell swoop) to Weta Digital. Yes, you can tell in many scenes that CGI is being used, which makes one wonder if real-life apes could’ve been used in many scenes, but honestly it doesn’t take away from the story. That is a sign of a truly great film. Take the original Planet of the Apes, King Kong or Jaws. We know that the filmmakers in those days used dated f/x to bring their creations to life but the audience doesn’t care since they’re so caught up in the storytelling.
Special accolades go to Andy Serkis for his performance capture of Caesar. As with Gollum from The Lord of the Rings films he really brings his creations to life. He and the filmmakers make Caesar the main protagonist as he is transformed from a gifted child prodigy to a tortured prisoner to finally a heroic liberator and leader who despite his hardships holds onto a sense of decency. Serkis deserves at least a special Oscar for his work in this movie.
Viewers don’t have to be fans of the previous films to enjoy this cinematic triumph, which skillfully throws in many references to the series including a Charlton Heston cameo and his famous line from the original film “Get your stinkin’ paws off me you damn, dirty ape!” The line is followed by one of the most powerful one-word replies heard on screen. There are many ways the story can be continued and this film is peppered with many suggestions of potential sequel ideas.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is a must-see for any film lover, it’s not only the best film of the summer but also one of the year’s best.