Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I was dubious: an awkward title designed to emphasise the franchise, monkeys (I dislike anthropomorphic animals, and particularly hate monkeys), and what looked to be an utterly predictable plot. However I was pleasantly surprised in all respects – this is a science-fiction movie about ideas and allusions rather than one that uses science as a setting or an excuse.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells two stories: one of the intelligent ape Caesar growing up, and one of the apes developing the rudiments of civilisation under his leadership. Unlike what the trailers imply, the movie goes beyond the shallow “science is hubris” idea. There is plenty of action, but it’s not the action that I remember.

Caesar was a surprisingly sympathetic protagonist quite unlike the violent revolutionary implied by trailers and promotional clips. He used his intellect to solve problems, didn’t kill humans (even preventing others from killing), and was regretful over deaths, cared for his human family, and was generous towards others. I found his navigation of the social structure of his tribe particularly interesting: how he uses an audience for his victories, and relies on the skills of his allies.

I was dismayed to learn that Caesar’s relationship with the female chimp Cornelia was implied by trailers but edited out – this would have shown a different side to his character and added a softer motivation to actions taken late in the movie.

The “Get your hands off me!” line was fantastic, and apparently the film was chock-full of allusions to previous movies. However the scenes that recalled early human civilisation made me think the most: use of weapons, cooperation instead of pure domination, coordination, and celebration of victories There is a fantastic image when the ape leadership a cable car up a hill; each of Caesar’s verbal communications are dramatic and memorable.

Franco was great, and his motivations nicely textured. He allows you to sympathise with the rather infuriating behaviour of Lithgow, and while there are “trust me even though I’m powerless” situations, these are more an expression of his earnestness. I really liked Pinto’s character – she is intelligent, helps Franco out, and isn’t used to generate needless drama. I did think the pilot drew the short straw. Andy Serkis is fantastic as always.

I found the plot linkage to the Planet of the Apes more conscientious than I expected – they seemed to really want to explain how the conditions for Planet of the Apes arose rather than simply cashing in on the franchise. The science portrayed (the Lucas Tower, gene therapy employing viruses) is realistic enough to be plausible.

I recommend this movie as solid, surprisingly touching science-fiction.

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