James Franco stars in The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a prequel to the films from the 60’s and 70’s. While I’ve never seen any of the original films, I thought Rise stands well on its own with dazzling special effects (no apes, chimps, gorillas, etc. were used) and an easy plot to digest. Franco plays a doctor who works diligently to concoct a drug that will conquer alzheimer’s disease, fueled partly by his father (John Lithgow) who is slowly losing his mind. Surely enough, all these drugs are first used on monkeys and after a disastrous episode with one of the test subjects, all the monkeys must be put to sleep. It turns out that the disaster was due to one of the chimps protecting an unknown newborn. The newborn is not euthanized and Franco takes it home as a pet.
Sure enough, over the years the chimp ends up becoming exponentially brilliant and able to communicate through sign language and develops the ability to solve complex puzzles. His owners name him Caesar (portrayed by Andy Serkis..yes! Gollum!) and also develop a very close bond with their top secret pet. After 5 years, Caesar becomes uncomfortable with being a “pet” and struggles with his confinement. Caesar eventually gets sent to a shelter after an altercation with a neighbor and the trouble really begins as he is abused by the zookeepers, played by Tom Felton (Harry Potter’s Malfoy).
All the chimps notice something different about Caesar as he deals with the shame and embarrassment of being a prisoner. He slowly gains the confidence of the other chimps and learns how to break out of the shelter. One night he sneaks out and steals Franco’s drug he is developing and gives it to all his primate friends. The chimps all escape and unleash hell upon San Francisco to begin their inevitable rise to global domination.
In a summer of films that fell far short of their potential (Thor, Green Lantern,Transformers 3, etc.) Rise is the ideal blockbuster with compelling characters, wild action, and constantly building intensity that is bound to blow up at any minute. While the digitized apes steal the show here, Franco and company are good enough to carry the rest of the film.
While the film is total Hollywood blockbuster fantasy, the story is told in a very sympathetic manner where Caesar’s actions are completely justified. While he doesn’t believe in murder he becomes smart enough to realize that he is responsible enough to not be locked up or put on a leash like a pet. He still loves and respects his owner and friend, but ultimately can’t deal with the way he and his fellow primates are treated by the zookeepers. Wouldn’t we humans do the same thing?
The survey says…a solidly intriguing 4 stars out of 5