Many, including me, have been thinking a lot about uprisings, revolutions and revolts recently, courtesy of the Arab world. That makes it a bit difficult to look at “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” as absurd as its plot is, without current events floating in the back of our minds.
It’s a special effects-heavy prequel to a dried out sci-fi franchise, so it is a bit surprising how much it actually adds to our understanding of uprisings and revolutions.
The film is structured as a biopic of Caesar, from baby chimp to a revolutionary figure and leader in the eventual ape takeover of the planet, which should not be a spoiler if you know the title of the movie.
We see Caesar as his emotions changes from excitement, to confusion, to anger at the humans, all done in a steady pace that gives substantial time to the grievances of the apes to make for a cathartic third act uprising.
James Franco, who in the last few years seems to be picking out his acting roles blindly from a hat, plays the scientist who raises Caesar and is responsible for a drug that gives apes higher intelligence, which he initially created as a potential cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
A few other human characters join Franco, including Frieda Pinto, Tom Felton and John Lithgow (whose last hairy ape encounter was the amusing “Harry and the Hendersons” set right here in the state of Washington). All of them, with the exception of Lithgow, are poorly written and add nothing to the film. Tom Felton in particular, yes, Draco Malfoy himself, basically plays a brat with no real human qualities.
The most remarkable aspect of the movie is that despite the boring human characters there is still emotion in the film, and that emotion is, paradoxically perhaps, all a result of the fake apes that were created using motion capture technology. Andy Serkis, who “plays” Caesar, gives a superb performance that enables the audience to feel for Caesar but also does not overly anthropomorphize the ape.
What this film succeeds at the most though is highlighting one of the most important things when it comes to detonating the ticking time bomb that is an uprising, education.
In “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” Caesar and the rest of the apes rise because of their newfound intelligence that enables them to understand that they are being wronged, and that they can take action to change their own fates. Educating the oppressed leads to a self-assuredness that can lead to disaster for the oppressors.
In the film, Caesar is not an ordinary chimpanzee, his higher-than-normal intelligence enables him to make smarter and useful decisions that can lead to a better life for him and the other apes.
I should add that these are still genetically enhanced monkey’s we’re talking about, so it’s not as eye opening or as brilliant as something like the classic revolution film “The Battle of Algiers.” It’s a shame that the human characters are so wasted. But the fact that it is a fun summer movie about smart apes that has room for actual insight, makes it a movie that stands out in the summer movie toy box. It’s the rare film that serves as an antidote to the blandness of summer movies, but actually is precisely that, a summer movie.