Little known fact about me: I hate sequels, reboots, franchises, and I detest CGI. I despise the fact that Hollywood constantly churns out half-assed attempts of mediocre films that are nothing more than regurgitated pieces of fecal matter for the sake of a $10 ticket. Also somehow throughout the years I have even been completely ignorant to The Planet of the Apes franchise. I was even surprised when a friend revealed the “twist ending” of the original film despite the film’s ending has been engrained in my memory since childhood. So imagine my surprise when I sat through Rise of the Planet of the Apes and was more than entertained but thoroughly captivated by the experience that took place. For once, every aspect of what I’ve considered a gimmick in film made sense and worked well to enhance the experience.
As a prequel to The Planet of the Apes series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes follows Will (James Franco), a neuroscientist looking to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease through a retrovirus that his company Gyn-Sys allows to be tested on live chimpanzees. The chemical virus is able to produce new brain cells allowing for increased intelligence and conscious awareness. Although the virus has only been tested on chimpanzees, Will works on developing a strain for human testing to cure his father (John Lithgow). However, in its final stages of development its prototype chimp, Bright Eyes, becomes violent causing the operation to be shut down. Will soon discovers that the effects of the virus have been transferred to Bright Eye’s son, Caesar, a baby chimp whom Will takes under his wing. As the years go by Caesar must deal with having intellect while still being considered a primate amongst his peers. After a series of unfortunate events, Caesar is placed in a primate facility where he begins to realize that humans and animals cannot coexist and he leads a revolution in order to take back his planet.
Aside from being a writer, actor, director, and pilot, James Franco is also a neuroscientist who has discovered the cure for Alzheimer’s.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ major strength is its script and Rupert Wyatt’s direction. While humans are heavily featured, it’s not the humans that viewers are drawn too, it’s the primates. Caesar is fluent in sign language, however, it’s not his words that are intriguing; instead viewers follow and experience Caesar’s wonder of his environment and his assessment of the world around him. Like a child, the young Caesar is curious, mischievous and craves love and acceptance, but audiences watch as Caesar transforms from a simple ape amazed at how the world around him works to a bitter, unhappy, self-aware being as Caesar begins to question his place in society to Will.
In one scene Will and Caesar visit the Muir Woods National Park and upon leaving Caesar is confronted by a dog and his owners. Threatened, Caesar retaliates to the dog’s persistent barking, but becomes aware of its leash. Soon after he questions if Will sees him as a pet due to his own leash. Caesar and the other chimps featured in the film are personified to a point where any given emotion they experience seems natural and realistic, an element made possible by the film’s fantastic use of CGI.
Wyatt uses CGI as a means to enhance the experience of the story as opposed to trying to impress viewers with cheap thrills. The CGI is used to make the chimps do things that even real chimps wouldn’t have been able to do as audiences witness Caesar and the other chimps display moments of amazement, anger, confusion, awareness and empathy. When Caesar is forced to live in an animal shelter, he is at first apprehensive of the place, requesting permission from Will to explore the area. But soon after he is enticed by the notion of free play and toys, exploring his surroundings with amazement and excitement before becoming aware that his environment is contrived and nothing more than walls and objects. Frightened, Caesar becomes desperate for escape, panicking and pleading with his owner to take him home. The range of emotions in that scene alone is a mere taste of what Caesar and the other apes transcribe through physical appearances, subtle looks, and movement.
It may seem cheesy but trust me, they do it justice.
Rise of the Apes is genuinely impressive; however, it’s not perfect. The use of stock film stereotypes are disappointing and it becomes obvious rather quickly that the film uses all of its character development on the chimps and not humans. Bad guys are just bad and have no redeeming qualities. Gyn-Sys company boss Steve Jacobs (David Oyelowo) is a money hungry businessman who sees no life or redemption in the chimps but only dollar signs in their experimentation. Draco Malfoy—er, Tom Felton plays Draco Malfoy—er Dodge Landon, a sadistic, almost evil guard at the primate facility who seems to hate any and all animals and some humans, too, without reason. Some characters are even wasted, such as Caroline (Frieda Pinto), Will’s love interest whom the film justifiably doesn’t focus on enough, making her character completely pointless to the story’s development.
“Feel free to bring Professor Snape. Come by and we’ll play some late night Quidditch”
Regardless, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is beyond impressive and one of the best films to have come out this year. The themes of playing god, institutionalism, and intellect are empowering and intriguing and although the focus is chimpanzees, the film’s reflection on society and human behavior is examined. However, don’t let anyone convince you this film is a take on racism, it’s not and I’d even argue that anyone who associates this film with racism is in fact a racist themselves. But I digress; although its ending feels forced and rushed, the majority of the film takes its time developing situations, reactions, and reason. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the only film that I’ve seen where talks of a sequel would excite me and actually feel needed. Yeah, it’s that good.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a drink: every time you notice a monkey with green eyes.
Take a drink: every time you ask to a friend or yourself “Is that Draco Malfoy?”
Take a drink: every time you see a monkey.