“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” might be marketed as a prequel, and it certainly feels like one, but it definitely isn’t something you should watch before the original series or the Tim Burton remake. It takes the established concepts of “The Planet of the Apes” franchise and rewrites the beginnings of the rise of the apes and the decline of humanity. “Rise” certainly begs for a sequel and I eagerly await to see it, but “Rise” doesn’t cheaply give you a cliffhanger ending just to entice you for it. It does what all blockbusters, or any film in fact, should do. It makes you want more by proving to you that what it has to give is grand ideas and even grander execution. “Rise” is amazing, dare I say it, it’s even better than the original and certainly better than any of it’s sequels.
Will (James Franco) is a scientist at the Gen-Sys corporation. He is trying to develop a cure for degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimers, which Will’s Father (John Lithgow) is currently battling. He is testing his drug, ALZ-112, on chimpanzees and has begun to notice changes in a particular chimpanzee called Bright Eyes (Terry Notary). Bright Eyes can now complete the Lucas towers in under twenty turns, the perfect score being fifteen. To contextualise this I’ll say now that this puzzle makes me sick with just the thought of having to solve it. Will now has living proof that there is potential for the drug and quests a meeting with a board of directors, but Bright Eyes escapes her pen and crashes into the meeting, displaying the side effect of aggression AZL-112 supposedly has. Afterwards, Will realises that Bright Eyes was only defending her newborn child and gets coerced into taking the baby chimp home. “Caesar” (Andy Serkis) displays the same bright specks in his iris that his mother did which was the only side effect of ALZ-112. Over the years Caesar grows in size and intellect until eventually he is sent to an ape sanctuary. Here, he becomes a leader of the apes and figures out how to start a rebellion and escape to freedom. That’s the most basic way I can sum up the plot but I can tell you that it is very good as a result of the way it is told which doesn’t rely entirely on dialogue, in fact it barely does at all.
The technology that has been utilised for this project is something to behold. Andy Serkis is unprecedented in his talent for motion capture, it’s as if it was designed for him. He brings Caesar to life and the fact that Caesar is the most sympathetic and likeable character is a very good thing. Unlike with Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes”, I don’t care that I prefer the apes to the people, because it’s obvious where the focus is here. Rupert Wyatt, the director, wants us to care for the apes and that is why so much of the film is centred around them and especially Caesar. The apes feel like apes, they have all the subtleties I would at least expect an ape to have, and all of the less subtle things as well. Granted, my entire knowledge of what apes do with their lives I got from watching “Monkey Business” on animal planet, but I think that you’ll agree that what has been accomplished here is remarkable. I seriously think they should start handing out Oscars to people like Andy Serkis, who have the strange ability to make monkeys feel like monkeys and genuine characters. We know what the future “Planet of the Apes” will be like from hindsight, Caesar made me forget that. By the end I was surely rooting for the apes and they gave me very few reasons not to, apart from a few loose cannons like Koba (Chris Gordon).
Patrick Doyle is responsible for the music production and it goes hand in hand with what has been filmed. A scene early on where Caesar grows up through a montage of changing weather, each stage of the montage is cut up by branches passing the screen as he soars up his first tree. The soundtrack getting more and more majestic and powerful the higher he climbs. It’s one of those, I’ll call them “goose bump scenes”, that really make you feel for what is taking place. Thank God too that this wasn’t just another generic montage because I think it’s best if we all get beyond those creatively. There are other goose bump scenes in “Rise” too, like the one where Caesar does something incredibly significant, that I won’t spoil. When he does it, ape and human goes silent and watches him in absolute awe. Except the humans are terrified and the apes are confused and overjoyed. Fortunately as the onlooker, we get a mixture of all of these emotions and more, the scene is stupidly well done and it’s what I’ll always remember this film by, and it’s what I always talk about when I find someone else who’s seen it.
Just about half of the movie takes place whilst Caesar is in the ape sanctuary. He rises from the new kid on the block with his human clothes that the other apes use as an excuse to beat him. To their leader, smarter and more merciful than all of them. Mercy is a big part of what makes the ape rebellion something that’s less deplorable, more admirable. Take a scene where Caesar gives the old ape leader a bag of cookies and lets him out of his pen. Caesar gives him a cookie, and then waits to see what he’ll do with it. Initially, the old leader goes to take more cookies, but first he looks at Caesar, and sees he doesn’t approve. At this point he realises what he should do and goes to each of the other apes and hands them all a cookie. There is (unsurprisingly) no dialogue in this scene and it is incredibly effective without it. Clearly Caesar is teaching his apes the importance of giving in a society and not taking, how can we find Caesar to be an antagonist when his ideals are so noble and well founded in morality? Again credit goes to the ape actors who convey everything that has to be conveyed in these scenes with just movement. Except for one or two scenes that sparingly use subtitles which I feel was a bit unnecessary. I understood the scene without the subtitles so I don’t see why they had to ruin the actors physicality temporarily just for some extra clarity.
“Rise” understands the key thing that should go into an ape film. I’m glad to finally have the lines truly blurred in terms of which side I root for. I’m also glad to see that there is evidence of the idea that maybe there won’t be sides in the future. The ending (and I mean the very post credits ending) reflects how the fears of the time have changed, It’s a Zeitgeist if ever I saw one. I’m hugely pleased with “Rise” and so far I believe it to be the best “Apes” film ever made.