Making the Grades
It says something about the developmental process when the first word spoken by a monkey in this movie is "no". That’s been the first word of a few toddlers I know. But Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) cognitive skills far exceed those of a human 2-year-old thanks to an experimental drug injected into his mother before his birth.
Driven to reverse the ravaging effect of Alzheimer’s Disease, Will Rodman (James Franco) is the scientist behind the brain-enhancing medication. And his father’s (John Lithgow) battle against the memory-stealing malady causes him to rush through the trial process. But during a presentation to prospective investors, he and a company executive (David Oyelowo) discover potential side effects after their test ape goes berserk and demolishes much of the laboratory before breaking into the boardroom.
As a result of the incident, Will’s program is shelved, the remaining lab animals are euthanized and Caesar becomes the only link to his research. When chimp handler, Robert Franklin (Tyler Labine) refuses to give the newborn a lethal injection, the young scientist sneaks the chimpanzee out of the building. At home, Will, unwilling to give up on his pharmaceutical study, attempts to revise the drug’s molecular makeup and uses his ailing father as a human guinea pig.
Meanwhile, Caesar grows from an adorable infant into a turbulent teen. Along the way he masters sign language, intricate puzzles and challenging mental exercises.
However, his exceptional intelligence doesn’t prevent him from ending up in a primate shelter after he attacks a belligerent neighbor who is berating Will’s dementia-riddled father. Locked away in a facility with abusive animal attendants (Tom Felton, Brian Cox), Caesar suffers indignities along with the other abandoned animals. (Why a pound exclusively for primates would be needed near San Francisco is never explained.)
But unlike the gorilla (Richard Riding) and a discarded performing orangutan (Karin Konoval), Caesar has the smarts to initiate a prison break and the emotional connection to make audiences cheer him on. He begins by reordering the hierarchy on the premises, establishing himself as the leader. Then, after exposing the other primates to a stolen dose of Will’s experimental antidote, Caesar mounts an attack on the humans.
Billed as an origin’s story, this remake of the 1972 film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, features motion-capture performances and CGI primates created by the digital wizardry of Weta Digital, the company behind the Avatar characters. Many of the cheesy effects of the earlier movie are thankfully lost, although the zoo bars break off the cages so easily that one wonders why the animals didn’t let themselves out a long time ago. But the interactions between humans and beasts are significantly more violent with characters being shot, beaten, electrocuted and subjected to testing procedures.
Like the previous productions in the series, this one contains strong moral messages about the definition of humanity and the subjugation of those deemed to be of a lower ranking. But while the apes certainly prove the inadequacies of mankind, they have yet to demonstrate that the new order of primates will be any more principled.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Once they are free from their cages, how do the different primates react to the humans? Why do some seem more intent on enacting revenge? Are their reactions very humanlike?
What are the dangers of drug development? What are the advantages? How can companies ethically test their products? Should animals be used in that process? What are the alternatives?
How does this movie tie itself to the previous Planet of the Ape films?