I went into Rise of the Planet of the Apes not expecting much, as I am not really a huge fan of the original Planet of the Apes movies (although I sort of liked the Tim Burton one with Mark Wahlberg, which yes, I realize, was not all that great). But the trailers made the film seem interesting and I was also wanting to see more of Andy Serkis’ work, this time playing yet another primate. The man is a genius when it comes to acting for digital creations and all of his characters have had such life given to them.
Caesar, the chimpanzee that Serkis portrays in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is no different.
But first, a little bit about the film. The movie takes place in the here and now, before the apes have taken over earth. Will Rodman (James Franco) is a San Francisco scientist who has been trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s disease by testing a genetically engineered retrovirus on chimpanzees. The virus mutates the chimpanzees, giving them a human level of intelligence. Unfortunately, one of the test subjects goes on a rampage and the company he works for puts a stop to all future tests and orders all of the animals in the facility to be put down.
This is where we find Caesar, who turns out to be the newborn son of the previous chimpanzee who had suddenly become uncontrollable. It turns out that she was protecting her child. And the scientists somehow had no idea that she was ever pregnant.
I have to stop here because at that point I was wondering how a scientist who was working and testing chimpanzees could not possibly realize that one of their test subjects was pregnant. But I think, generally speaking, humans in this film are more or less portrayed as being dumb. Even the well-educated scientists.
That major plot hole aside, the film shows us why Rodman is so determined with his work. His own father (John Lithgow, who is completely wasted in this role) has Alzheimer’s and his son is desperate to find a cure. He brings Caesar home and realizes quickly that the baby chimp has somehow inherited the retrovirus from his mother and has a high level of intelligence and may hold the key to saving his father.
Obviously, this means that the predictable begins to happen. And this film does have a lot of predictable moments. However, since I don’t want to spoil any of the film, I won’t go into details. But think about any movie you’ve seen that’s man vs. creature and you’ll know what I mean.
Fortunately, this film is not about the stupid humans. This is about a chimpanzee named Caesar and his rise to power.
As I previously mentioned, Caesar is a digital masterpiece. He is so real that you would never know it was CGI. The facial expressions that Serkis has given this character, along with the emotion each movement portrays lets us know who the star of this movie really is. And once we start seeing more of Caesar, the humanity in his actions makes him frightening to watch and yet impossible not to.
Once Caesar has met others of his kind, the story becomes more disturbing and could very well be classified as a horror film. One scene particularly stands out, which resulted in the theater audience gasping and me with chills going up and down my spine. This is the moment that tells us that things are about to get nasty and we immediately know that it’s going to be brutal and horrific.
Sadly to say, the human actors are no match for Serkis and the rest of the chimpanzees created for this film. This is their story, after all, though, so I suppose that is to be expected. I felt that the human part of the story was actually poorly written, although that might have been intentional. There is a reward, though, for sitting through all of that to get to the ape uprising, which I found scarier than a lot of horror movies I’ve seen.
In the end, this film is a testament that we stupid humans probably should treat our animals with much more dignity and respect. Because if we don’t, we just might eventually get our come-uppance.