Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Posted: February 9, 2012 in Movie Reviews

In the prequel to Schaffner’s 1968 classic, the apes return to reveal how the intellectual primates got so smart in the first place, all with stunning modern technology, I might add. Rupert Wyatt, with a less-than-impressive directing career of four films total, delivers with an impressive block-buster film that touches on numerous subjects of nature, animal cruelty, and slight implications of evolution. What’s been done with Apes is similar to what’s been done with Star Trek, where the origins of the original story have been explored in a revamping of the previous series.

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 Will Rodman (played by James Franco—the Spider-Man series) is a scientist who has been working on an Alzheimer’s cure. Testing on live chimpanzees, his “ALZ 112” drug has shown tremendous effects on the primates, boosting their IQs and making them incredibly intelligent. This has given Rodman testimony to persuade the investors of the company to continue funding. However, during the presentation Bright Eyes, the ape that has been tested on, becomes crazed and goes on a rampage, destroying the lab. This gives Steven Jacobs, the CEO of the company, reason to halt funding immediately and have the remaining chimps put down.

Later, it’s revealed that Bright Eyes was only defending a few-day-old baby, and Rodman is forced to bring him home temporarily. Charles Rodman (Will’s father) who suffers from a serious case of Alzheimer’s, names the baby Caesar, a fitting name as we’ll later see.

Caesar, who genetically inherited his mother’s intelligence, shows exceptional intelligence himself, and Rodman keeps him. After Rodman injects his father with the drug, the Alzheimer’s disappears overnight, giving Rodman the proof he needs to continue his work.

He creates a new and improved drug, dubbed “ALZ 113,” and tests this on one chimp. Jacobs realizes the money that can be made, and, going behind Rodman’s back, tests the drug on all the chimps. Eight years pass, and Caesar can actually understand the human language and communicate using sign language. Caesar, who has never actually spent any time among other chimps, thinks himself a part of the family, and certainly acts more mature than most human eight-year-olds.

Charles Rodman’s Alzheimer’s eventually returns. One day, Caesar observes a neighbor yelling at Charles for trying to drive off in his car, and violently chases the man, who he thinks is assaulting his “grandpa.” He’s then taken to an ape rehabilitation center where he realizes how cruel the human world truly is. It’s here that he recognizes his true mental capacity, and stages an escape for himself and the other apes. He escapes one night and returns with an aerosol gas version of the ALZ 113, which he uses to inoculate the other apes.

Meanwhile, ALZ 113 proves to be effective on the monkeys, creating exceptional logic skills, but harmful to humans. One of the scientists becomes exposed to the gas, eventually killing him. Caesar finally gains the trust of the apes, and his escape becomes a reality. The primates run amuck in San Francisco, and the police stage their defense on the city’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Amongst the fog, the apes plan their attack and quickly overcome the police force, allowing them passage to the forest beyond where Caesar spent much time in his younger days.

Rodman follows the ape posse into the woods in an attempt to persuade Caesar to come home, to which Caesar’s quite-unexpected verbal response is, “Caesar is home,” showing how human-like he’s become.

The last scene of the film shows Rodman’s next door neighbor, who happens to be an airline pilot, walking into the airport, himself contaminated with the virus from the ALZ 113 drug. This implies that the virus then spreads global, showing  how the world ultimately becomes infected, and the reason the apes eventually take over.

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The film delves deeply into human nature, and man’s desire to continually push the envelope in the scientific field and take it to the next level. Caesar’s character portrays a sort of dictatorship, in which he overthrows the current government and establishes himself in command. He demonstrates this by using mind over brawn to overpower the alpha male of the chimps in the rehab center. When he eventually stages their escape, they know Caesar is their leader.

 It becomes slightly disturbing as the story unfolds when Caesar eventually realizes he’s not a human, and rebels against human authority. It’s an ape-becomes-man sort of situation, which carries some serious evolutionary connotations. It’s a “the apes are becoming smarter than us” state, which is meant to show how the Planet of the Apes primates become so smart. Caesar even creates a hierarchical structure; he is on the top, the chimps are the smart ones, the orangutans are the wise advisors, and the gorillas are like the brute police force of the monkey (excuse me, “primate”) system.

This film is very powerful with emotions, starting with the opening scene. Baby Caesar will force a lot of “awww” from the audience, and the cruelty of the humans towards the apes may shed tears. But the moral of the story is that man can never tamper with nature, as nature has always broken past boundaries and scaled to new heights when humans intervened, as greatly suggested in the film Jurassic Park.

This film, although not a masterpiece, was very powerful. For a movie about apes that get smart and take down the San Francisco police force, it actually wasn’t too bad. I walked into the theater with relatively low expectations, but came out saying, “That actually was pretty good.” I’m not saying I would make room for it on my shelf, but it had some good entertainment with a well-balanced blend of action and emotion.

But perhaps the best part of the movie was the technology used to create the facial expressions of Caesar. In contrast to the original Planet of the Apes, where actors wearing prosthetic masks looked kind of dorky, modern technology has allowed the apes to transform into powerful actors with extraordinary physical emotions and expressions. Andy Serkis, whose previous work has included King Kong and Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, has performed outstandingly without barely speaking a single word. Using state-of-the-art techniques, used on the two afore-mentioned films (as well as Avatar), actors have been able to physically act out their roles, and using motion capture have been able to create digital versions of the actors’ faces and movements.

This makes for incredibly realistic and detailed, not to mention masterfully crafted animals that not only look real, but behave similarly and look like humans.

Apart from its evolutionary impressions, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a fairly unique, as well as creative movie. As per the title, this film will most likely have a sequel, or even several.

8 stars

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