-excerpt from The Chronicles of Cinematic Recompense
Like many children of the Seventies, I was a staunch supporter of the era's "Ape-mania," loving the PLANET OF THE APES movies and a good deal of their attendant fallout. The sci-fi pickings in the pre-STAR WARS days were pretty feeble, so when a series of films that were (mostly) pretty damned good came along, you cherished it. The APES movies all featured a good deal of social commentary/satire on subjects such as racism, religion vs. science/anthropology, nuclear self-destruction and the ethical vagaries of vivisection, and the pondering of those things while wrapped in allegorical sci-fi trappings was something that stirred the young minds of my generation. So when it was announced that there would be a new APES movie made in the wake of Tim Burton's decade-old abortion, I questioned whether the new film would follow Burton's brain-dead lead or be some kind of return to something a tad more intellectually stimulating. (In today's utterly mindless cinematic climate of movies by committee, I did not hold out much hope.) What I got was totally not what I expected and I could not be happier with the results.
In modern day San Francisco, scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) seeks a cure for Alzheimer's, something sorely needed by his aging father (John Lithgow) whose mind is deteriorating on a daily basis. Working within the corporate labs of the Gen-Sys pharmaceutical corporation, Rodman develops a serum that when tested on chimpanzees causes the brain to repair itself and generate new neural pathways, fixing Alzheimer's and boosting intelligence to amazing levels. Following an incident in which a particularly gifted female test subject, "Bright Eyes," goes berserk and escapes from the lab, resulting in her being gunned down by corporate security during the meeting that would have led to the greenlighting of the drug's testing on human subjects, it is revealed that that she was protecting the baby she had given birth to and hidden below her bed. Ruling the drug a failure, Rodman's money-hungry boss orders all of the test chimps destroyed, but since the baby was discovered after its mother's rampage and is thus known only to Rodman and the lab's chimp-handler, Rodman adopts the adorable little orphan and raises him at home in secret. For the next eight years, the chimpanzee, dubbed "Caesar," enjoys life in a loving home where he forms deep familial bonds with Doctor Rodman and his dad. Unbeknownst to his Gen-Sys superiors, Rodman continues the testing of the drug on his father and the results are both swift and spectacular. Meanwhile, Caesar displays intelligence far beyond the garden variety chimp, even exhibiting functioning and skills beyond humans of a relative age and development. (Though Caesar himself was not directly administered the experimental drug, his mother sure as hell was and the effects of the serum are proven to be genetically transmissible.) But things take a turn for the worse when the drug's effects upon the elder Rodman are reversed as the old man's body builds an immunity to it. Wandering into the street, the confused old man gets into a confrontation with the next door neighbor that is observed by Caesar, who launches into violent defense of his family member. Though the neighbor is not killed, poor Caesar is court ordered into the custody of a specialized home for great apes, a place where our simian protagonist experiences firsthand just how cruel man can be. It is during this incarceration that Caesar's resentment of mankind is forged, and from there he launches a revolt that — along with a couple of other factors that I won't spoil — leads to the beginning of the end for the human race's planetwide dominance.
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES comes from out of nowhere (and from beneath the shadow of Tim Burton's atrocity) to not only be my favorite film of the summer blockbuster season, but also takes its well-deserved place as one of the best major studio films of the year. The script is surprisingly intelligent and does not at all cater to the moronic demographic Hollywood has spent well over a decade dishing out mindless celluloid candyfloss to by the truckload. I honestly believe the filmmakers involved looked at the Burton fiasco (and also some of the gaffes made in most of the films in the original series) and decided not to make the same mistakes as what came before. This is the origin story of Caesar I had never dared to hope for, and I have every intention of seeing it at least once more during its theatrical run.
Items of note in the film:
- The excellent motion-captured performance by the brilliant Andy Sirkis, the guy who so deftly brought Gollum to life in LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. His Caesar is simply impossible not to care about and root for, and I can honestly say that by halfway through the film, the entire audience wanted to see him and his all-ape army win. While Rodman's story is certainly interesting, the film belongs to Caesar and his point of view during its events.
- The sometimes ham-fisted social commentary of the original series has been wisely kicked to the curb in favor of a hero's journey story fused with what can be seen as an animal rights piece from the point of view of animals.
- The other featured apes are also pretty cool, especially Maurice the orangutan (think about that one for a minute, o my fellow geeks) and Duke, a very large and understandably pissed-off gorilla.
- Pay attention whenever any TV news reports are seen, especially those relating to a space mission to Mars.
- The effects on all of the apes are outstanding and believable. The somewhat spotty footage seen in the trailers and TV ads do not do the work seen onscreen justice, so don't judge the film on what you saw in the previews of the past few months.
BOTTOM LINE: I simply loved RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and very highly recommend that you see it in the theater. A franchise movie of this caliber that does not talk down to its audience is rare indeed, and it should be shown appreciation with your box office cash. But one word of warning: The story gets very emotionally intense in some areas and it greatly affected the grownups in the audience, so bear in mind how children react to animal characters that they come to care about. Kids will love Caesar, so expect them to become quite upset during a lot of what he goes through. (Plus to say nothing of the awful demise of his mother.)