At some point in all little boys’ lives, we dream about owning a monkey. This is partly because, at some point in our childhood, we hate our siblings and would rather share a house with a feces-throwing animal than have to look at their stupid faces for one second longer. But it’s also because we know it would be awesome. Dane Cook joked about, the Barenaked Ladies sang about it, Ross Geller did it, and Hollywood depicted it. Who wouldn’t want to operate flight simulators for fighter jets (Project X) or swing through the treetops (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) with their close simian friends? And what better way to fulfill that dream than by stealing a genetically modified, super smart chimp, like Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) does in Rise of the Planet of the Apes?
The film begins with an obligatory and overused scene of a bunch of monkeys being captured and sold to laboratories. I know that this really happens, but it is completely unnecessary in this film, as the entire movie is spent convincing us that humans are evil. This scene is obviously a throwaway to appease the fanatic animal activists under the guise of “establishing the theme of ‘how bad we humans are.’” In what is otherwise a very good movie, this scene was pointless.
Anyway, Rodman is developing a cure for Alzheimer’s and convinces his boss to let him ask the board for human trials. While delivering his presentation, one of the chimps goes apeshit (ha) and they shoot it in the middle of the board room. This immediately kills Rodman’s proposal as they believe this to be a side effect of his cure. This also leads to the largest plot hole of the movie – the introduction of the main character and chimp, Caesar. After destroying all of the test chimps, they discover a baby chimp in the cell of the chimp they thought had gone crazy. The lead animal handler says, in complete surprise, that the chimp must have thought they were trying to take its baby. Wait…hold on a second. While doing all of these tests, in a laboratory, with doctors, and monkey experts, they somehow missed the fact that not only was one of the chimps pregnant, but that it gave birth IN THEIR LAB. How the fuck did they miss that? More importantly, how much do you have to not care as a writer to put that piece of shit explanation into the screenplay? I understand that this was just the vehicle for Rodman saving the baby chimp by taking it home, but that was just plain lazy/stupid.
After getting through these first painful minutes, the film redeems itself by delivering one of the best characters put to screen in a long while – Caesar. Andy Serkis performs as Caesar, all done in motion capture and brought to the screen through CGI, and is so good that you will wonder if he is, in fact, a weird looking monkey. We knew he was good after delivering us Gollum, but Caesar was simply amazing. From his mannerisms to his movements to his facial expressions (and some credit does go to the CGI guys), he gives us a character with more emotion than any else in the film, and earning more sympathy than Little Orphan Annie. If Serkis doesn’t win an Oscar for this performance, than humans really are evil and stupid.
After Rodman takes him home, the film rapidly moves through the next eight years, setting up the fall of the human race. Rodman starts testing his cure on his father, who has dementia, teaches Caesar sign-language and some other stuff, and starts dating a woman. Some things happen and Caesar is taken from him and put in a monkey sanctuary. At this point, the movie slows back down and delivers the meat of the film. This is where we really start to feel for Caesar and watch his transformation into a leader of fellow simians. It’s also where I stop telling you what happens because I don’t want to spoil the good parts of the movie for you. What’s important for you to know is that you will have no trouble rooting for Caesar and will enjoy watching the humans get what they deserve.
I really enjoyed this movie. There was a good balance of action and character development and the story doesn’t try to give more than it should. We don’t see the end of the human race, the monkeys don’t spontaneously multiply into millions of themselves, and they don’t suddenly become equally as intelligent as humans. The CGI is seamless and very realistic and the rest of the cast gives good performances. What put it over the top for me were all of the subtle connections they made with the 2001 Marky Mark version of Planet of the Apes. I know a lot of people didn’t like that film, but I did, and regardless of your opinion of it, this movie explains the ending of that film. Identifying these little things made me realize that, despite my low opinion of some writers, they deserve credit for at least watching that film before making this one. But I still think they’re lazy and stupid.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back. And no, you can’t have a monkey.