Rise of the Planet of the Apes

In the 1980’s, a fear rose among many factory workers that they would be replaced by robots.  For instance, several functions of auto manufacturing can be performed by industrial robots which require no breaks, no pay, no benefits, no insurance and no vacation.  The circuit boards of computers are usually built by robots which can perform within tolerances no human can replicate on a consistent basis.  While automation has replaced many human workers, the biggest threat to American jobs turned out to be humans in other countries who will work longer hours for significantly less compensation.  At least those whose jobs are taken by a machine or someone in another country can always go out and look for a new line of work, while the humans in this week’s movie “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” may have to find a way to deal with being knocked off the top of the food chain.
Will Rodman (James Franco) is a genetic researcher attempting to create a drug that will repair the brain.  His father Charles (John Lithgow) suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and Will conducts his research with the goal of curing his father.  The drug, delivered by means of a virus, is tested on chimpanzees at a company called Gen-Sys.  One chimp, called Bright Eyes by her handlers, shows a marked increase in intelligence and Will encourages company president Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) to move forward with human trials.  Jacobs calls a meeting of the board of directors to get their approval, but Bright Eyes becomes agitated when taken out of her cage and breaks through a glass wall into the board meeting where she is shot and killed by a security guard.  The board orders all testing to be stopped and all the test animals killed.  As the primate handlers empty the cells, they discover a newborn chimp in cell occupied by Bright Eyes.  Her agitation was caused by her desire to protect her baby.  Unable to bring himself to euthanize it, Will takes the newborn chimp to the home he shares with his father, planning to keep it only a few days until other arrangements can be made.  Soon, Will notices the chimp he now calls Caesar (Andy Serkis) has intelligence far in advance of his age.  Will keeps Caesar in his home to study how the drug he was exposed to in his mother’s womb will affect his development.  As he grows, Caesar learns a massive vocabulary of sign language and understands human speech.  Encouraged, Will injects Charles with the drug and overnight his Alzheimer’s symptoms disappear.  After a run in with a neighbor, Caesar is injured and Will takes him to a local zoo to be seen by Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto), a primate specialist.  After some prodding from Caesar, Will and Caroline begin a relationship which quickly blossoms.  Charles system develops antibodies to the virus used to deliver the drug and his dementia returns leading Will to try a new, stronger virus delivered in an aerosol form.  In his confusion, Charles tries to drive off with a neighbor’s car, leading to a violent confrontation.  Caesar attacks the neighbor, biting off his finger, getting the chimpanzee locked up in a primate sanctuary run by John Landon (Brian Cox) and his sadistic son Dodge (Tom Felton).  At first bullied by the other chimps and tortured by Dodge, Caesar uses his intelligence and canisters of the new version of the drug to organize the apes and begin an uprising against their human oppressors.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” aside from having a name that’s too long, is a very good movie.  Part of what makes it good is the story is interesting.  Having a father who suffered the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, I could empathize with Will’s desire to free Charles from its grip and his willingness to bend and break the rules.  It was also interesting to see how the ape rebellion was built from the inside.  It reminded me of those prison break movies where one inmate is initially disliked and distrusted but soon proves his worth and becomes the leader of the escape plan.  Caesar, whose movements were created by actor Andy Serkis wearing a motion capture suit and translated into the computer generated chimp, at first, is merely curious about the life he sees from his attic bedroom window.  Unfortunately, any interaction with a human other than Will is negative.  His introduction to other apes is a rude awakening into a world of politics, domination and power.  His intelligence is able to translate this new experience into a plan to take over the loosely organized tribe and lead it to revolution.
Overall, the film is interesting and it looks good…for the most part.  The CG apes sometimes look a little flat.  They look almost like they’re pictures of apes cut out of books and stuck on the screen.  These lapses in quality are fleeting but happen several times in the movie.  While the interaction between the live and CG characters are consistent and believable, the images aren’t always.
The movie also left me with some questions.  For instance, why would a major genetics company demand a multi-million dollar project that had been underway for at least five years (according to a character) be shut down over one rogue monkey when a tiny amount of investigation would have shown the reason for the chimp’s behavior?   Why do the authorities seem woefully ignorant of the agility and power of chimpanzees and apes?  Anyone who has seen any nature documentary about the animals knows a full grown chimpanzee has five times the strength of a human and their skills at climbing are legendary.  Of course, the first casualties in any movie are logic and common sense, so these and other lapses of both shouldn’t surprise me and none interferes with the overall enjoyment of the movie.  They just annoy me a little.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is rated PG-13 for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence.  The strength and aggressiveness of apes is translated well in the film.  There are several attacks by apes on other apes as well as on humans.  We see one person get a finger bitten off and another character is electrocuted.  There is some blood but no gore.  Foul language is at a minimum.
Fans of the original film series will find a few Easter eggs tossed in for their enjoyment.  We get a brief glimpse of Charlton Heston from the original film and watch Caesar building a 3D puzzle of the Statue of Liberty which is featured at that film’s end.  There are a couple more tributes to the first film including the most famous line from that movie which leads to a major revelation.  While it doesn’t always use its head and the CG apes look very fake for brief moments, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” sets up what may be another multi episode film series and I am looking forward to the next chapter.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” gets four guitars out of five.
It’s a busy week with four new films fighting it out for your entertainment dollar.  Vote for the next movie I see and review.
The Help—Emma Stone stars in a drama about three Southern women who strike up an unlikely friendship in 1960s Mississippi.
30 Minutes or Less—Jesse Eisenberg is a pizza delivery guy who is kidnapped by wanna-be criminal masterminds and forced to rob a bank.
Final Destination 5—A group of co-workers narrowly escape a bridge disaster, only to be hunted down by Death itself, coming to collect its due.
Glee:  The 3D Concert Movie—A concert documentary following the cast of the hit musical television show on their summer 2011 live tour.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
Questions or comments?  Send them to stanthemovieman@att.net.  You can follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.