An early review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes in celebration of release of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Enjoy!
The summer of 2011 was a great one for films. X-Men: First Class showed us that Marvel’s mutants could be good again, even without Hugh Jackman. Harry Potter wrapped up one of the best film series of all time. Kristen Wiig made the funniest comedy since The Hangover in Bridesmaids, and the Marvel cinematic universe introduced two of its big guns with Thor and Captain America. By far though, the most surprising film of the year for me was the Planet of the Apes prequel/reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Rise is set before the original Charlton Heston film, before the apes have taken over. James Franco plays a scientist, Will, who is developing a cure for Alzheimer’s and using apes to test on. After a work accident shuts his program down, Will ends up with one of ape’s babies at his home to care for. He soon realises that the ape has naturally received the cure he was developing from his mother, and the ape becomes incredibly intelligent. Will uses the ape’s blood to help his father (John Lithgow) recover from Alzheimer’s disease and adopts the ape as his own, naming him Caesar (Andy Serkis). Over the years Caesar becomes a member of the family until he attacks a neighbour while defending Will’s dad, whose Alzheimer’s has returned. This lands Will in trouble as he was never meant to keep the apes after his testing was shut down, and Caesar ends up in a primate shelter where he is mistreated by the owner’s dick son (Draco Malfoy struggling to avoid any sort of typecasting after the Harry Potter series wrapped up). Caesar rallies the other apes help captive and they escape. Can the world survive an assault from these wronged simians, or will these apes slowly become the dominant species?
The most impressive part of this film is Serkis. His motion capture performance as Caesar is every bit as good as when he played Gollum in Lord of the Rings. The Academy Awards really need to find a way to recognise motion capture performances. Serkis is great in this film, you really believe he is an ape, and it is this performance that allows the audience to have any sort of sympathy for Caesar and his plight. The rest of the actors are good, Lithgow is always solid, and I think the fact I didn’t think Franco was a stoner playing dress up should tell you he did a good job, but this is Serkis’s show. He is the highlight of the film by a long way.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes reinvents this world really well. I’m very excited to see what the upcoming sequel is like. After this one, my expectations are quite high.
I remember watching the Charlton Heston classic Planet of the Apes for the first time when I was about 11 years old. It was definitely a movie that my dad came across on TV and urged my sister and I to watch, having grown up with the film himself. The iconic twist ending left a huge impression on me, but the rest of the movie not so much. Still, Planet of the Apes was one of my first introductions to science fiction, and thanks to the amazing Rise of the Planet of the Apes I’m inspired to give the original a second watch.
Rise was a surprising film to me. I didn’t expect much on first viewing, but was absolutely blown away. Even watching it for the second time now I am still moved by the characters and story. This is both a reboot and a prequel to the 1968 original, hinting at the events in the Heston film but establishing its own mythology as well. Rise does a great job of balancing the old and new, mixing in plenty of obvious and obscure references to the movies that inspired it.
What Rise does best is create a believable origin story for the intelligent apes that have become a part of pop culture. An ape named Caesar inherits super intelligence from his mother, who was part of a drug trial testing a potential Alzheimer’s cure. The doctor running the trial, Will Rodman (James Franco), adopts Caesar and starts observing him in hopes of restarting his drug trials. While Caesar’s intelligence grows, Will’s father (John Lithgow) continues to deteriorate from Alzheimer’s, making Will more desperate to find a cure. The Alzheimer’s subplot is what really grounds Rise and lends plausibility to the story. Having a grandparent suffering from this disease made the story all the more relevant to me, and I related to Will’s quest to find a cure. Lithgow’s performance is also wonderful, especially when he is interacting with Caesar.
This film also deeply explores how humans interact with animals. Caesar is the product of animal testing, a controversial yet necessary part of scientific advancement. When Caesar’s mother “goes ape” and escapes the testing facility, all the apes in the trial are killed when the project is shut down. It’s heartbreaking to think that this happens in real life, and that these animals are seen as disposable. At the same time, can scientists really test drugs in these early stages on humans? (This movie points to no. Will’s drug is inadvertently introduced to humans during the testing phase, and the consequences are dire.)
Rise also addresses the keeping of wild animals as pets. Will is forced to leave Caesar at an ape sanctuary, where he struggles to fit in having only interacted with humans. This is a common problem for former performing chimps, simply because they do not know how to act like an ape. Caesar blurs the line between human and chimp, and will never truly fit into either world. He is forced to create peers to interact with, and leads them on a revolt against the cruel caretakers and those who want to study them for profit.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes may not have a shocking ending as Planet of the Apes did, but it doesn’t need it. We all know where the story will ultimately lead, it’s high time the origins of Heston’s planet are explored. This is a worthy prequel to a film that has become iconic, and has plenty of fun shout outs to the original.