I had plans last Saturday to go see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in the afternoon with my bad-movie-watching buddies. Since they’d both seen the first one in this series and I hadn’t, I spent the morning before our date watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes to prep.
I’d seen the original Charlton Heston film as a kid and hadn’t been that into it, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from either of these. While I’ve got a few bones to pick with both of them, though, I found them pretty entertaining on the whole. Definitely Mom-watching material (hi, Mom!), and also way, way more fun to watch with my bad-movie-watching buddies than our last pick had been (the near-unbearable Godzilla).
These two films serve as prequels to the Heston one (and also the abominable 2001 remake by Tim Burton, which I also tried to watch last weekend — I didn’t last 20 minutes). In that one, Heston plays an astronaut whose ship crashes onto a strange planet populated by a bunch of talking apes, only to find out at the end (spoiler alert!) that he’s actually landed on Earth 2000 years in the future. (In related news: soylent green is people!)
Rise and Dawn tell the story of how the talking apes came to be in the first place. And, as you might expect, they came to be because of human hubris. Oh, you humans. And your hubris, my god!
In Rise, scientist Will Rodman, wholly unbelievably played by a very sleepy-seeming James Franco, is working for a private biotech corporation in San Francisco, developing a virus he hopes will cure Alzheimer’s. When one of the chimps he’s tested the virus on becomes outrageously smart, Will can’t wait to tell the board his work is a success. Unfortunately, while he’s sharing the good news, that same ape goes berserk and ends up being shot and killed on the board room table. Not exactly the intended ending to Will’s PowerPoint presentation [insert bad joke about bullet points here] [sorry].
The president of the company demands the other apes all be put down, but as the chimp handler is doing the terrible deed, he discovers the ape that had gone bananas (pun intended) had just given birth to a baby — that, rather than the virus, could have been the explanation for her sudden aggression.
Will sneaks the baby chimp home, intending to secret it away to a sanctuary. But, of course, it has also been infected with the virus, and when Will realizes it too is incredibly intelligent, he ends up keeping the little guy instead. His father, in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s himself, names the baby Caesar, and after Will sees the power the virus has had on Caesar, he begins to inject it into his dad as well — curing him almost immediately.
Of course, anyone who’s seen Project Nim knows this whole “raise a chimp like it’s a baby human” thing is not going to work out well for any of the parties involved, especially the chimp. And, indeed, when Caesar hurts a neighbor trying to protect Will’s father during an altercation, he’s taken away by the courts and sent to an (abusive) primate center. Bitter, Caesar turns his back on Will and his family — just as Will’s father’s immune system begins to reject the virus and his Alzheimer’s returns.
Will begins work on a new version of the virus — stronger, better, faster — and treats a second chimp with it. In the process, the human chimp handler dude is exposed as well. One night, Caesar manages to bust out of the primate center and breaks into Will’s house, stealing several canisters of the new improved virus, which he then uses to brainify all his new ape buddies. Soon, a huge pack of infected, super-smart chimps, orangutans, and gorillas are racing through town, finally making their way to the redwood forest across the bridge, where they hide from humans and are not seen again.
Meanwhile, the chimp handler coughs on an airline pilot, and the first movie ends with the clear suggestion an epidemic is coming.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes starts out about ten years later, with the apes now in a fully-formed civilization and the humans utterly extinct. Or so they think. That assumption is corrected when two chimps cross paths with a small party of men and women headed into the woods on a quest to reactivate the local dam and restore power to their settlement in the city. One of the humans, terrified of what he’s seeing (talking chimps will do that to a guy, especially if that guy is also an armed jackass), shoots and kills one of the chimps.
Though Caesar, the leader of the ape group, wants to try to maintain peace with the humans, and one of the humans feels similarly, a series of misunderstandings and lies inevitably leads to all-out war. Ain’t that always the way?
Dawn is a bit too rife with shooting and yelling for my tastes — though Caesar can speak English very well, he almost never uses his “inside voice,” and I started to get a little tired of all the shouting. Additionally, of course, it makes no sense that any of the apes can speak English at all — the ability to speak isn’t related to intelligence in primates, it’s related to the structure of their mouths and throats. The talking ape thing makes way more in the original film because the apes in that one had had hundreds of generations to evolve.
There were some other aspects of both movies that didn’t make a whole lot of sense either, and neither movie had all that much to offer in terms of original ideas. However, I was impressed by the special effects (the apes, barring a few situations in which they seemed to move a little weirdly, really looked like apes and not like the CGI creations they were — credit the great Andy Serkis (as Caesar) for a lot of that work).
Plus, the moral of the story sure seems timely. I’d say it goes a little something like this: the smarter we get, the more like big dumb animals we become. (No offense to animals intended.)
Definitely a great choice for a summer popcorn flick. Entertaining story, decent characters, and a whole lotta cute apes to boot (oh, Maurice! I have such a crush on you, you sweet orange thing!).
Genre: Science fiction
Cast: Rise: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, Brian Cox
Dawn: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell