The prequel to the 1968 film Planet of the Apes. James Franco plays a scientist working in a lab using apes to test drugs. One chimp displays unusual intelligence and it goes berserk trying to protect its child. The chimps in the lab are put down. Franco rescues the baby chimp which grows up to show high intelligence, he calls it Caesar. Franco’s dad, John Lithgow, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and Franco uses the lab drug on his dad, with amazing results. Then Lithgow returns to his Alzheimer’s disease and he causes chaos in the neighbourhood and a young neighbour is attacked by the young chimp, Caesar. Franco must send Caesar to a primate centre where he is mistreated by a bullying keeper. Caesar turns on his tormentor and leads the other apes out of the centre into a pitched battle with the police on the Golden Gate Bridge. The drugs Franco used are fatal to humans but apes are immune. Caesar can speak.
We’ve had lots of films about apes and monkeys. This presumably stems from our supposed close relationship with them (denied by some scientists). In the 30s with Tarzan and King Kong we showed a sort of benevolent paternalism to them. In the era of Greenpeace values, apes have done well, becoming heroes of the uncorrupted wilderness from Greystoke and Gorillas in the Mist to Instinct. Naturally, people come off worse, apes are hairy noble savages protecting their Eden of primitive innocence. Jane Goodall and other naturalists have tried to habituate us to our natural closeness to the apes which I’m not convinced by. I’m sceptical about macro-evolution and incline towards some sort of Intelligent Design, but I’m not religious. These films are sentimental Darwinist fantasies, yet chimpanzees are dangerous and savage and they will attack us. They can also use bones as tools, not needing to touch the black momolith which in 2001 set hominids on their tool-using way to become human.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is disappointing compared with the 1968 film, though it’s better than the TV series and the awful Tim Burton remake. Rise Of is too much like a summer blockbuster with the appropriate simple sentiments that manipulate us into hating ourselves and cheering on the apes (Instinct and Gorillas in the Mist also did this). James Franco naturally has a cute girlfriend who of course is on the right side, which is the cause of the ape. There are the exceptions, we are meant to think that the planet would be better off without human hegemony. The corporate businessman who runs the lab is of course on the wrong side, as are the vile zookeepers and aggressive neighbours. When Caesar is in the primate centre we get the stereotypes of prison movies: mistreatment of inmates and the gang that fights back. In this film Andy Serkis models for the computerized effects, and this is just as anthropocentric as the 1968 film’s use of plastic masks. At least the ’68 film could make its satirical point better in its pantomime outfits by exposing the self serving brutality of humans against other animals. The snarling revenge of the apes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes undermines the ’68 film’s effectiveness as a parable since it is merely payback. Chimps are not sympathetic candidates for good relations with nature. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes human traits are superimposed on ape faces, usually a hateful glare, whereas in other films it’s an embarrassing sentimentality.
Surely there should be another prequel showing how the human race declines and how the apes take over, otherwise this looks like a hectic and not very convincing prequel. Rise of the Planet of the Apes uses the Golden Gate Of San Francisco as a symbol of the new ape order just as the Statue of Liberty was used as an ironic symbol of our betrayal of nature in Planet of the Apes. The film Rise of the Planet of the Apes plays with meaningful images, like the window frame of Franco’s house used as a symbol of hope which Caesar chalks on the prison wall. This is a nod towards the film Instinct which played with pretentious ideas about humans and apes. Great to look at and entertaining, but it could have been a better film…