Proposition me with a trip to the movies to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes and, ordinarily, I wouldn’t be interested. Sci-fi, James Franco… not a fan of either.
But show me the trailer, with a heavy focus on the humanity of apes and how they’re “just like us!” and hella yeah, I’m down to see it.
The film begins with James Franco as a scientist, who has been working on an anti-Alzheimer’s drug by injecting it into apes to see if their brains can repair themselves. Not only does the drug A-1-12 do this, it also creates new pathways in the brain, which means the recipient knows and can do things they couldn’t before.
Bright Eyes, the ape who produced such results, goes ape-shit, so to speak, and is put down. What was thought to be the drug’s fault is attributed to Bright Eyes’ unknown pregnancy and birth, and “she was just being protective” of the baby ape hidden in her enclosure.
The experiment is shut down and Franco’s character, Will Rodman, sees no option but to take the baby ape home to the San Francisco house he shares with his Alzheimer’s-inflicted father, Charles, played by John Lithgow.
Fast forward three years and Caesar, whom they’ve named the now-super ape, has had the A-1-12 transferred to him at birth, it is discovered. He has his own play area in the attic, and he gazes down at the human world below him, aching to experience life outside the confines of the Rodman home.
During this time, Will steals some vials of the A-1-12 drug and secretly gives them to the ailing Charles. The results are overnight and miraculous. With the introduction of Freida Pinto’s veterinarian Caroline, who barely has five lines in the movie and is literally the only female character, bar Bright Eyes who is killed off in the first five minutes to further the story for the male characters, it’s all one big happy family.
Five years later, Will is struggling to care for his dad, whose body has developed immunity to A-1-12, and to wrangle the increasingly smart, inquisitive, lonely and strong Caesar, who attacks a neighbour for roughing up Charles when he tries to drive away in his luxury car in a dementia-induced stupor.
Will is forced to send Caesar away, to a primate enclosure in the city. Unbeknownst to Will, Caesar and the other apes are treated like crap by the attendants, who are the first victims when the apes stage a revolution.
Each time Will and Caroline come to visit Caesar, he gradually wants nothing to do with them. He begrudges Will for abandoning him and allowing him to be treated “like an animal”.
This notion is really at the crux of the film. We treat animals like beings less than ourselves, even though we know more than ever about their thinking and feeling capacities, and we will live to suffer the consequences.
There are consequences when we treat them too much like humans, too. (Paging Paris Hilton.) We can see that when Caesar leads the motley crew of apes freed from “sanctuaries”, like the one Caesar and the other apes escape from, laboratories and the zoo, and when he tells (yes, apes can speak now. The miracle of A-1-12.) Will he’s “home” with his own species.
This is after the climactic Golden Gate Bridge fight scene, where man versus ape in an overwhelming victory for the latter. This scene perfectly illustrates the “pack mentality” we accuse sports stars of, and is illustrated by the London riots and the gang-rape of Lara Logan.
Other subtle and not-so-subtle metaphors in the film include the dichotomy of war, racism, prison, how we treat refugees, how we treat those we don’t understand, testing on animals (which, in this film, is null and void: Franklin, a lab technician who dies towards the end of the film after being exposed to the virus strain of A-1-12, A-1-13, proving it may work on apes, but it certainly doesn’t on humans) and, of course, the aforementioned way we treat animals.
I’m a sucker for an animal movie, and cried pretty much through the whole thing! And these “animals” weren’t even real! But, in retrospect, the flawless special effects and underlying meaning weren’t enough to save the dismal character development and non-ape related storyline. Pretty much all the characters were interchangeable.
I’m not a big fan of James Franco, and in this movie he didn’t annoy me with his James Franco-ness but, having said that, I would rather that than a repeat of his Oscars coast-through, which his performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a mirror image of.
In terms of Pinto being the only woman in the movie, perhaps her no-character Caroline could have been spared in favour of one other female character with a bit of substance, a backstory, and a driving force in the storyline: mother Charlotte instead of father Charles.
But really, this reasoning is clutching at straws, as Rise of the Planet of the Apes is really all about the… erm… apes. Humans are merely transposable caricatures.
*It has come to my attention that I give away too much in my movie reviews, so the asterisk will now serve as a blanket *spoiler alert* from now on.
Related: Time’s “What Animals Think” August 16, 2010 Review.
Asylum Seekers: Have a Little Compassion.
Image via IMDb.