In “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” audiences are placed in a rare situation — we know how the film ends before it even begins. But as far as origin stories goes, director Rupert Wyatt does a wonderful job detailing the demise of the human apes, all without insulting our intelligence.
The film opens in the jungles of Africa, where a massive hunt for chimps is taking place. The kidnapped apes are shipped to modern-day San Francisco and wind up in the care of an ultra-high-tech pharmaceutical company, Gen-Sys.
Here, head scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is leading a team of genetic engineers to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s. The team tests their miracle cure on a group of apes and discover an increased intelligence in the animals. The operation is shut down before the drug can be tested on humans, but Will manages to smuggle home an orphaned ape who was genetically exposed to the drug. Will’s ailing father, Charles (played marvelously by John Lithgow) names the ape Caesar, and the duo raise Caesar in secrecy.
Fast-forward to three years later, and Charles is suffering from an extreme case of Alzheimer’s. In a desperate move to improve his father’s quality of life, Will sneaks home a dose of the drug, which seems to instantly cure Charles from the disease. At the same time, Caesar is having trouble finding his place in the world — is he a part of Will’s family or a glorified pet?
After he aggressively acts out against a bully neighbor, Caesar is transported to a local animal shelter where he is locked in a cage.
Will and his veterinarian girlfriend (Freida Pinto) vow to free Caesar from the abusive hands at the animal shelter, but their efforts are slow-moving.
At the shelter, Caesar’s intelligence makes him a natural leader among the rest of the apes. Caesar manages to sneak out of his cage and swipe a couple of canisters filled with the Gen-Sys test drug and exposes the other apes to it. Almost instantaneously, Caesar is leading an army of intelligent ape soldiers ready to break free from the humans who have abused them, and they plot their escape to a nearby redwood forest.
While Franco, Pinto and Lithgow deliver good performances, the real star of the film is Caesar himself. The digitally created ape was brought to life by actor Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” and Kong in “King Kong.”
Serkis captures the complex character of Caesar — Caesar has the emotions of a human and is able to express feelings of fear, anger, humiliation or happiness with a single look.
The scenes of the chimp in the shelter, or prison, is where audiences feel empathetic to Caesar and his fellow chimp inmates. Nobody likes to see animals abused.
Audiences should stick around through the credits for further insight on how the human race falls, and fans “Planet of the Apes” will be delighted by several nods to the original film.
Directed by Rupert Wyatt. 105 minutes. Four out of five stars.