Rise of the Planet of the Apes – film review

August 5, 2011

I love the original Planet of the Apes film, with its famous ending indicative of some human apocalypse and the evolution of other primates in our wake. This prequel actually makes an effort to tie its logic in with the original – it shows a way that the apes could have become intelligent and organised and deals a massive blow to human civilization at the same time. The first of these plot devices is not really meant to pass any strict plausability tests, although it does sit well with the basic drive in human society that i have diagnosed as the great myth of civilization: the drive to transcend earthly limits and live in a world of endless abundance (or cities of light and feasting). Caesar, the first chimpanzee to receive a dose of the new drug meant to cure Alzheimer’s disease, is the baby of a test subject, who is taken home and reared by main protagonist Will Rodman (James Franco). So, like Dr Frankenstein before him, this genetic scientist is trying to help cure the world; his ambitions may be grand but they are also benevolent. Of course we all know how it ends up for Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s modern Prometheus, who promised to “pour a torrent of light into this dark world” only to be hounded to the ends of the earth by his thankless creation… but in this case Rodman actually withdraws from the program when he realises it is moving too fast and may pose a problem for humans, whereas his profiteering boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) continues on unabated and successfully screws up in the process. Thus the second main plot link to the original film: we cop it, although if you don’t stay for the credits you won’t get the full force of this scenario, so sit tight!

The film is ominous and disturbing because it follows logical premises about human desires. Yup, that’s the part where we try something reasonable – like curing a disease – and end up doing something greedy and selfish – like trialling or releasing drugs before proper testing is finished. There are implausible moments, but it is a Hollywood film after all, and nowhere near as bad as it could have been. The shifts in Caesar’s intelligence are handled well; Andy Serkis of Gollum fame plays a handy primate and what the main chimp does with his chance at understanding, puzzle solving and power all rang pretty true for me. That is, realise you have to escape from the humans, first and foremost. Caesar links ideas together and sees his way out of the maze – or rather imprisonment – that is inflicted upon animals as test subjects.

Weirdly – or not – i felt a pang of jealousy when the apes threw themselves up the giant redwood trees in clear delight (and unrepressed power). Back to the Garden, my primal urges concurred – at one with nature! It’s such a deep call. Reminded me of Marlow upstream in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, witnessing the “savage rituals” in the jungle and becoming aware of his distant kinship with the natives and their relationship with nature. The animal power within; if it doesn’t have an outlet, it gets all bottled up and then comes out explosively like a monster. Think i’ll go run around, swing from some branches, and throw things at other things for a while. Let some primate steam off.

Good film, makes logical links to the great original, plausible(ish) and exciting, reminds us of the deep need for humans to remain connected to the world of nature and, as with any Promethean warning tale, also of the grave threats involved in reaching too far for some ideal of human perfection.



  1. NIce one Geoff. I thought this film handled this mix of morality and entertainment pretty well for a big hollywood pic. Like you I think, I ended up empathising with the apes. Did you happen to see Sucker Punch?

  2. Thanks James. I didn’t see Sucker Punch on the big screen, although i was tempted. What did you think?

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