Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is hardly the best in its franchise, but is still a worthy entry into the pantheon of “Apes” movies. Dramatic, dark and often pulling the heartstrings, “Rise” is a mature sci-fi tale of science gone awry.
Just about every recent film about science run amuck has been superficially tucked away in a super-hero movie. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” however, takes that ages-old dilemma and puts it to a more frightening effect. The first two-thirds of “Rise” successfully shows that, like many classic science fiction movies before, science born out of compassion will always lose to corruption and greed.
James Franco (“127 Hours”) is maverick scientist Will Rodman, who is close to finding the cure to Alzheimer’s. Curing the disease is a personal journey for the scientist whose father, poignantly played by John Lithgow (“3rd Rock From the Sun”), is in a late stage of the illness. When lab testing on chimpanzees doesn’t work out so well and the greedy businessmen take control of the project, Will brings home an infant chimp to raise as his own. Thus, the great and mighty Caesar is born.
Franco’s relationships with his sick father and the aging and domesticated Caesar are often touching when ultimately we know that the world will be rid of humans and the apes will rise.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” gives one or two nods to the original Charlton Heston classic, but unlike the original Franklin Scaffner masterpiece, the apes are CGI. Andy Serkis (“Lord of the Rings”) does a masterful job at bringing Caesar to near-human likeness, but the digital features are not nearly as convincing as the makeup effects of even the weakest of the original “Apes” films.
But while Will envisions changing the lives of millions of people around the globe, not to mention his warm-hearted father, his domineering boss Steven (David Oyelowo) only sees the financial potential. Steven is a business man, after all, and his company has investors to impress. Focused on the end result instead of implications, Will uses chimpanzees to test a new drug that will inspire the brain to fight off Alzheimer's. Though Will and his staff treat the chimps with compassion, the company views them merely as enslaved assets, which isn't a good thing for an already intelligent animal getting an extra boost in the cranium. Clearly they haven't thought this all the way through. When Will is forced to take care of a genetically enhanced baby chimp, audience members can already imagine where it's all heading.
But "Apes" progresses slowly and confidently as it builds the relationship between Will and chimp Caesar (played by Andy Serkis), who ends up being much more aptly named than Will originally intended. We begin to see that Caesar, who has learned sign language and has an off-the-charts IQ, is much too intelligent to be kept on a leash. When he sees that he's little more than a pet, Caesar begins to figure out the world that the humans have constructed and watches through scrutinizing eyes.