I didn’t get around to seeing this one in the theaters, but it’s running on HBO right now so I decided to check it out. As usual, I had to watch it in two chapters, but eventually, I watched it all the way through. I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not a big James Franco fan–seeing him in Spiderman as the antagonist still kind of gets to me–but this was a really enjoyable movie.
James Franco’s character, Will, is a scientist trying to create a new treatment to cure/improve Alzheimer’s Disease, and they are testing the drug (actually a virus strain) on chimpanzees. One chimp in particular shows remarkably mental improvement, and because of the astounding results so far, Will wants to begin human trials as soon as possible. (We soon learn that his father has advanced Alzheimer’s, which is the reason he cares so much about the treatment.)
The ape who has been treated, nicknamed Bright Eyes, is supposed to be brought in front of the board to show her mental capacity, but something goes wrong. She becomes violent and escapes the lab, only to be shot by a security guard as she rampages through the building. The treatment is canned, and the apes are ordered to be euthanized because the company supervisor is convinced that the drug caused the violent behavior.
However, it turns out that Bright Eyes was pregnant and her violent behavior was only out of defense of her baby. Not having anywhere to go, Will adopts the baby ape, bringing him home to live with him and his father, and names him Caesar. Caesar immediately begins showing signs of advanced intelligence and throughout the movie, he becomes smarter than even some of his human counterparts.
Will’s father worsens at about this time, and Will decides to treat him with the virus that was given to Bright Eyes. It works really well, restoring his father’s mental abilities and memory capacity, but after several years, his body builds up a tolerance to it and begins attacking the virus, bringing the disease back.
During this time, Will has been working on a new treatment, a newer strain of the virus. When this treatment is applied to one of the apes in the lab, it has the same astounding mental improvement and cognitive function results as the previous treatment, but this one is harmful to humans. During the treatment, the ape, Kobo, convulses and knocks loose one of the valves containing the virus, infecting one of the ape handlers whose mask came loose in the commotion. It soon becomes apparent that the virus is dangerous, and even deadly, to humans.
Caesar meanwhile, attacks a neighbor for attacking Will’s father, whom he knows as family, and is put into an ape preserve, of sorts. Will is unable to regain custody, at which point, Caesar decides to plan his own escape, and that of the other apes confined to the preserve. The apes eventually have their hurrah, clamoring over the Golden Gate Bridge to get to the Redwood forest–best climbing and swinging around–and they manage to subdue and overrun the humans, even seeking revenge on some of them.
While it seems clear that Caesar never intends to take over the planet, his primary motive seems to be escape, the other ape, Kobo, who was treated with the newer version of the virus, is clearly more sinister in his plans.
What is most striking about this movie is Andy Serkis’s performance as Caesar. These are CGI apes, not actual animals, and Andy Serkis, having played King Kong and Gollum in other films is no stranger to CGI. His performance, capturing the expressions and emotions that Caesar experiences when he is hurt, afraid, and angry, as well as when he is happy, are incredible.
The main reason I recommend this movie is because the story is WAY better than the previous Planet of the Apes stories, but it’s also got better actors – John Lithgow plays Will’s father – and it’s a little scarier, in a real sense, because of the virus’s ability to spread to humans.
If you get HBO, HBOGo, or maybe it’s in Redbox, I don’t know, check out Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Go bananas. 😛
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