I’ve never seen any of the original “Planet of the Apes” movies. When WTBS aired seemingly weekly “Apes” marathons during my childhood, I would flip to the superstation long enough to say, “This crap better be off before rasslin’ is supposed to come on.”
So I did not think much about “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Well, except to ask, “Why?”
But the TV spots, which I initially watched just to catch a glimpse of James Franco’s pretty, pretty face, intrigued me. As the release date neared, I, an avowed science fiction foe, decided to see a “Planet of the Apes” flick.
No one is more surprised than I, but I wanted to know how the apes gain the upper hand. I wanted to know more about this Caesar character, the ape featured so prominently in the trailers and TV spots. I wanted to know the fate of the horse we see in those spots. We see the horse upended when a gorilla drags the cop riding the horse to the ground. I worried about the horse. The cop, not so much.
I’m one of those people who can remain calm while a bad guy slaughters a roomful of movie characters. If he so much as gives a dog the stink eye, I’m vowing vengeance on him.
That’s why “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” had me from the beginning. As soon as a group of mercenaries kidnapped a chimpanzee from the jungle, I knew where my loyalties lay.
An experimental Alzheimer’s drug is tested on the chimp, named Bright Eyes due to the affect the drug has on her eyes. On the day Bright Eyes is supposed to show off her smarts for investors, she behaves aggressively — or so everyone thinks. She’s actually behaving protectively. Unbeknownst to her handlers, Bright Eyes was pregnant when kidnapped and had just given birth. When she nearly tears off a lab guy’s arm and runs wild through the lab, she’s protecting her baby.
(Her actions remind me of the way my cats behave when it’s time for flea treatments.)
Security shoots Bright Eyes to death, orphaning her baby. To keep the baby from being “put down,” the scientist who created the Alzheimer’s drug, Will Rodman (Franco), takes him home where he learns Bright Eyes has passed on her genetically-enhanced intelligence to her son, whom Will names Caesar.
Over the next eight years, Caesar lives with Will and his father, an Alzheimer’s patient. When Will isn’t smuggling Alzheimer’s drugs to treat his dad, he’s raising Caesar as his son.
Despite Caesar’s smarts, he’s still a chimp and after he attacks their obnoxious neighbor, he’s sent to an ape sanctuary. In other words, ape prison. There, he suffers at the hands of a guard (Tom Felton). That’s right, the same guy who played that jackass Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” movies.
When I wasn’t feeling sorry for Caesar, I was admiring him. He’s a bad ass yet benevolent leader. Caesar has the opposite view of another of my favorite movie characters — “Unforgiven’s” Will Munny. Caesar believes deserves got everything to do with it and he doesn’t go around killing folks arbitrarily.
Andy Serkis, the actor who plays Caesar, gave excellent performances in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but I think his Caesar exceeds that performance and not just because Gollum made me feel dirty while Caesar makes me feel proud. Caesar processes many emotions, and we see it on his face and body. Even Caesar’s body language changes from the time he enters ape prison to the time he leaves. Emotionally, he goes in as a scared little boy and leaves as the alpha male, and we buy it because we witness the transformation.
He’s not the only amazing ape. (Serkis and the other ape-portraying actors hopped around and emoted wearing those motion capture suits. No apes were used in the filming of the movie.) From the heroic Buck to the scarred – in more ways than one – Koba to the wise Maurice, these apes become real people. Oppressed people you root for.
Director Rupert Wyatt paced the movie perfectly and filmed some spectacular shots and sequences including using Caesar’s ascension of a redwood to show his progression from a toddler to a fully-grown chimp.
Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s screenplay kept the focus on characters and relationships — Caesar and Will, Will and his dad, Caesar and the other apes – while also managing to include references to the “Apes” franchise, most of which sailed over my head.
The movie also sort of answered my questions. I know more about Caesar, I think I know what happened to the horse, and I know how the apes (eventually) gain the upper hand. Not to reveal too much, but at this point in the narrative, the apes don’t want to rule the world, they just want to climb trees and hang out.
They want freedom.
Just like the rest of us.