Great Apes: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)

Planet Of The Apes is a franchise that I absolutely love, but haven’t talked about much here on the blog. I don’t think there’s any question that the original film is a classic worth celebrating, but what really hooked me about the franchise was the strange and wonderful continuity that flows through the first five films. You’ve got astronauts traveling forward in time, more coming after them, a nuclear bomb going off, apes traveling back to the original time period and having a baby who eventually leads the ape uprising. It might be a bit confusing to some, but I started learning about it at the height of my interest in comics which was heavily based on the history within the stories I was learning about.

So, when I heard that a new Apes film was being worked on that wasn’t really in the continuity, I wasn’t super interested. But, as time went on, the cast formed and I heard lots of liking the film, I figured I’d give it a shot. There’s a time when this movie’s lack of continuity with the others would have really bothered me, but I think I’m past that part of my fandom. Now, I can easily appreciate a story spinning off of another story I like especially if it’s as well done as Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

The movie follows James Franco, a scientist working on an Alzheimer’s cure that’s being tested on apes. It turns out the drug is also making them smarter, but when one of them flips out and starts attacking people, they’re all put down. One of the babies, Caesar, gets spared, however, and Franco decides to raise him in his house. He also tests the drug on his dad (John Lithgow). Everything goes well for a while until Caesar flips out (apes do that, it’s why they make bad pets) and gets sent to an ape house run by Brian Cox and Tom Felton (Malfoy from the Potter films, that dude always plays someone awful). While there, Caesar learns some of the harder truths about the world and winds up first dosing his fellow apes and then leading a revolution to free them as well as apes in the zoos and labs.

It’s a great story, but most importantly it was handled really well. Director Rupert Wyatt really allowed for the special effects to do their work, and they did a lot of good work in this film, though I’ll get more into that in a bit. Whole scenes work out between Caesar and the other animals where not a word is said. There’s a clever use of sign language between him (Franco taught it to him) and an orangutan who used to be in a circus, but even that isn’t overly used. It might sound strange, but the digital apes really get a chance to show what they can do and they do very intense, emotional work.

On the subject of the effects, I kept thinking about one of Penn Jillette’s Penn Point podcasts from last year where he quickly spotlighted this movie, saying that he liked how the digital apes actually looked a little cartoony and unreal. I didn’t really get what he meant until I saw the movie, but I think he’s right on with his assessment. The apes are clearly digital, but not in a bad or sloppy way. They’re very well done and could have probably been made more realistic, but I think it’s good for them to be a bit cartoony because it lets your brain relax on that subject for a bit. You’re not constantly trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not (even if that’s an unconscious struggle), which allows you to enjoy the film more and get further into its reality.

Finally, I dug how the film ended. The apes get what they want, but there’s obviously a lot more story to be told both because humans aren’t going to just give up any of their territory like that AND because of the cool credit presentation of the spread of the human disease caused by unneeded exposure to the drug Franco helped create. For a film I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to see, being excited about a potential sequel is a pretty big deal. Can’t wait to see where they go with this franchise next!