Before beginning the review I would like to say that I for one welcome our ape overlords as our superiors and am more than willing to be their human slave if they deem me worthy.
That being made clear, this is a spoiler-free review for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" which may be seen as a prequel to the 1968 Charlton Heston movie "Planet of the Apes" but can also be seen as the first in a new series but with the same concept. That being said the movie doesn't fail to please fans of the original like myself with nods and refrences. I won't give them away as being a fan of the first it's much more fun to pick up on them for yourself.
Now a word to the aforementioned fans of the original. You may feel like you can't trust that this movie will be good because you've been burned before as evidence by the terrible remake in 2001. I can assure you this movie will not disappoint as the spirit of the original is ever-present here yet still feels like a whole new experience.
The movie opens up with chimps running around in the jungle, as chimps do, being pursued by poachers. Shortly after we see what some of the apes are subjected to which is animal testing at Genisys a company devoted to the development of experimental medicine. Here we are introduced to Will, played by James Franco. Will is the head of the personnel devoted to the development of the cure for Alzheimer’s.
Will is a sympathetic character if there ever was one. A man trying to cure the world of a disease, for which there is no approximate cause, which causes an unbearable burden to the loved ones of those with it. This Will knows first-hand as his father suffers from the disease and is slowly deteriorating. It's admirable to see Will as a character that doesn't do what he does for the tired motivations of money or fame but instead for men like his father and to a greater extent families of those with the disease whose suffering is also great. It's a remarkable backstory which provides a great care for the character.
The problem is he's the only human character in the film.
Aside from will the only other people in this are not characters but plot devices. You have the insensitive business man who writes the cheques so that Will's project stays alive but who is only in it for its potential profit. You have the love interest to give Will perspective on the consequences of his actions which his passion might blind him to. And of course Tom Felton plays Draco Malfoy. The characters lack of development is appropriate though as the attention that would be used on well-developed side characters is brought towards the development of James Franco's character Will Rodman who by the end of the film is much more understood as far as who he is and what he is all about and feels known by the audience. More on that in a bit.
Now while there are no other well developed human characters there is another well-developed character, Caeser the ape played by human actor Andy Serkis through motion capture animation. Every facial expression and tidbit of personality exuberated by Serkis is captured and animated into a computer generating ape. This is done extremely well but forsakes realism in the design of the apes as they look computer generated which doesn’t bother me in the slightest because even if it looked like a real ape I would know it was fake. Caeser is different from your everyday ape as he has an enhanced intelligence due to the experimental drug administered by Will. As a result of his enhanced intelligence Caeser lives as a human does with Will and is treated in a way which will help him reach his full potential. This establishes a family relationship among the three characters namely Will, Caeser and Will’s father and not only are they a family but they are a happy family. In the first act of the film there is a montage of 3 years of happy times where the love and care the characters have for one another is shown in spades. It’s heartwarming stuff and it comes into even more effect as the movie goes on.
Of course it can’t all be cures for horrible diseases and happy families can it. The conflict can be said to have begun when Caeser starts to get existential and wonder if he is a pet or if he and Will are equal. He learns of his creation and the reasons behind it. Serkis’ performance particularly shines here as he portrays what it looks like to have your world shattered almost effortlessly and it is believable and the audiences heart sinks. The conflict moves even further when Caeser is deemed too violent to be in a suburban home due to his excessive defensive nature and is court ordered to an animal shelter. This is a crucial scene as it reminds the audience that though Caeser is gentle with Will and his father and though he may have an enhanced intelligence and though his violence is for the best intentions, he is still an ape and they are very dangerous.
Then of course comes the Shawshank Redemption-esque scenes where Caeser is in a prison essentially surrounded by dangerous non-enhanced intelligent apes and Caeser becomes scared. Caeser now faces a trifecta of trauma and that’s aside from his realization that he is a walking test subject. He has been ripped away from his family, he is surrounded by dangerous apes and he is being tortured, and that word is not used lightly, by Tom Felton. I forget his character’s name. so of course Caeser snaps and begins his revolution.
The film is blatant in its arguments against animal cruelty and testing brining to the point that many animals sent to be tested on are put down if the drug fails and many animals sent to animal havens are severely mistreated. Now is the movie saying that this will result in world domination by animals? No but it’s definitely not ruling it out
The mistreatment that all the apes suffer makes them sympathetic to the audience as their pain is understood and it can be seen as a reasoning as to why they are so violent towards humans and why they feel the need to revolt. However the Apes do some damage to many random humans even a few fatalities which then turns the creatures you once sympathized with to be creatures you now fear. It’s very difficult to find a clear antagonist or a protagonist here.
By the end of the film you wish for more and it feels like the beginning in a series. You want to see what happens with Will and Caeser who by the end of the movie are not as likeable as they were however they are still understandable characters. In terms of action there was a gripping 3rd act of non-stop action which made me want to be a gorilla for what that’s worth. I give the movie 8.5/10 stars. Would have been more had the movie not been so dismissive of its side characters and the movie feels like it was held back because it was trying to get a PG-13 rating so the really horrifying stuff that would have made this excellent leave it being great.On a final note, I have to say Will was asking for it, not just for creating a supersmart ape but for naming him Caeser. You have to appreciate the irony of that.