The original 1968 Planet of the Apes spawned its own sequel titles and even had its own remake with Tim Burton’s 2001 version. Now the original film acquires its own prequel which is also setting itself up for sequels. Confused? Think of the Star Wars franchise as a comparison and that should help. So who started it all in Rise of the Planet of the Apes? James Franco ladies and gentlemen. Franco’s father, John Lithgow, is fading away through Alzheimer’s. Luckily, Franco is a leading scientist when it comes to ideas and methods to regenerate brain tissue. Before these syringes full of regenerative juice can be injected into humans though, they must first be tested on chimpanzees.
Through a series of misunderstandings and then guilt, Franco acquires and brings home baby Caesar and raises him as his son. At first, Caesar does not recognize he is a chimpanzee or at least does not bother to ask why he is different from daddy. Unfortunately, Caesar learns harshly that other humans only see him as a ‘dirty Ape’. The zoo chimps also do not recognize Caesar as one of them so here we have our lead character with the ultimate identity crisis; not an ape, not a human.
I was skeptical going into this film about sitting through yet another iteration in the Ape franchise. Was this summer blockbuster just made as a one off attempt to win the box office one week or would it have a quality script with complexities? I believe it chose the latter – most of the time. The first half hour and the last half hour of this film are outstanding. Watching Caesar come of age at first and finally become a leader and spur on the film’s climax are really entertaining to watch. Unfortunately, the middle hour of the film sometimes feels like a burden to sit through. These are scenes which of course are required to show Caesar figuring out reality and his place in it, but it does not always make for riveting movie watching for the audience. There are also repugnant characters to endure including Brain Cox and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) as chimp caretakers.
The payoff is worth it though. No actual chimpanzees were used in this film; every single one you see is CGI and I suppose that is how it could only have worked. These chimps need facial expressions and require a bit of knowing behind the eyes. Also, there are a few sneaky hints throughout which reference the original film which are fun to watch for. I hope the next film in this franchise is up to the challenge to be as good as this one.