(Read this in my publication In Retrospect – Issue 1)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt, The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is the prequel to The Planet Of The Apes phenomenon that was first published as a novel in 1963 by Pierre Boulle. ‘La Planète des Singes‘ was first translated as Monkey Planet, but was later reissued to tie into the film franchise that the novel inspired. The first film adaptation was released in 1968 and starred Charlton Heston, which was then remade in 2001 starring Mark Wahlberg. This latest instalment explains the uprising of the apes, telling the story of how they escaped captivity and gained their intelligence, and how they managed to take over humanity when their only purpose was as test subjects to help save it.
The film begins by introducing us to the protagonist of the film, Will Rodman (James Franco), a scientist who has been experimenting on chimpanzees for five years to help develop a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The virus mutates the chimpanzees, giving them a human level of intelligence. After thinking they have found the cure, the chimpanzee that was being tested on is shot dead after supposed side-effects of rage, but it is later realised that this chimpanzee was only being protective towards her baby who she had secretly given birth to. Will’s boss Steven (David Oyelowo) orders subordinate Robert (Tyler Labine) to put all the test chimpanzees down. When he cannot kill the newborn chimp, he asks Rodman to take him home. Rodman names the chimp Caesar (who behind all that CG is Andy Serkis) and soon recognises that it has inherited his mother’s high intelligence, and therefore that his cure works.
Three years later, after seeing Caeser grow healthily and educating him with sign language, Rodman decides to use the cure on his father Charles (John Lithgow) who is suffering from Alzheimer’s himself. At first, the cure works, but another five years later Charles’ dementia returns. Forgetting where he is, Charles gets in trouble with a neighbour and an onlooking Caeser attacks him. Caeser is then sent to a primate facility run by John Landon (Brian Cox) where he is mixed with other apes and is treated cruelly by one of the workers, John’s son Dodge (Tom Felton).
Whilst in captivity, Caeser uses his greater intelligence to begin gaining dominance over the apes and, after releasing the virus into their cages, starts to plan their escape. Meanwhile, Will creates a more powerful form of the virus and new tests on chimps begin. This virus strengthens the intelligence of the apes but, unbeknownst to the scientists, it is fatal to humans. Franklin is exposed to the new virus and accidentally begins to spread it to other humans, but before he is able to warn anyone of its effect he is found dead in his apartment.
It’s this background story that the film focuses on. Whilst it is a lot to take in, the rest is left up to our own minds and own perceptive to pick up on. The link to Planet Of The Apes is subtly used throughout by mentioning a man going to space in the newspaper and on the news in the background, avoiding any condescension by not pushing this explanation in your face (Although if you hadn’t seen the sequel then you wouldn’t have caught on to these hints). Then, just when you think the film has left you to presume how the apes ultimately take over, we are shown one more scene of the virus spreading through humans. Whether you’re interested in the Planet Of The Apes phenomenon or not, there’s still something that can be respected from this prequel. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is really well put together.
Only one criticism can be given to the film. As one of the main characters, Caroline (Freida Pinto)’s role seems a little pointless and although Pinto’s name and face is splashed all over the advertising, she doesn’t add anything to the film. Apart from that, it is a very decent film.
So, finally, the moral of the story is: don’t mess with any type of monkey, or befriend one, or try to find a cure for a vital human illness. Whether it’s a fictional rage virus like in 28 Days Later or a cure for cancer like in I Am Legend, it will never end well.