It is sometimes so difficult to remake a classic without ruining it and even though this story plays out as a prequel to the 1968 classic it does not quite reach my expectations as a fan of the original “Planet of the Apes” films. That said it is still an intriguing story as it sets up the premise to how the apes began to rule the world but it falls a bit short in the end. It is kind of like giving an ape a banana that cannot peel it. In the original films it was a new idea, an untold story, a fear that some may think could become a reality in some way. Even though in the news years ago there were stories and reports of scientists working to give apes speech not just sign language, those stories disappeared as fast as the rumors got started in the news and I am a bit worried this new rendition of special effects apes may do the same.
The present day story begins in the jungle, native land to the wild apes. Suddenly poachers capture a few of the apes from their tribe; eventually they end up as research in a San Francisco laboratory. Will Rodman (James Franco) is working for Genesis Corporation diligently trying for the past five and half years to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, a disease in which his father Charles (John Lithgow) suffers from. His health is in a spiral turn for the worse while living with his son under the watchful eye of a day nurse. Will’s biggest accomplishment is #9, known as Bright Eyes (Terry Notary) an ape that happens to be showing signs of progressive intelligence under the experimental drug called ALZ112. One day when Robert Franklin (Tyler Labine) a fellow lab technician decides to remove Bright Eyes from her chamber she fights back and escapes the enclosure running rampant throughout the corporate building until she meets her deadly fate by the hand of man. Apparently large research facilities even in films do not understand the use of tranquilizers! Little did everyone know though that Bright Eyes was not being aggressive but rather protective of a newborn that she gave birth to while in captivity.
When Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) the boss man at Genesis Corporation decides to euthanize all the apes in the research facility, Will decides to take the baby chimp home and eventually he and his father name the chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis). We must remember that most creatures are adorable while small and young but eventually they all grow up to form their own characteristics and personalities whether good or bad! Caesar has taken up residence in the attic of Will’s home, observing everything within the home and through a window of the attic, watching the neighborhood kids play, taking it all in like a sponge. One day when Caesar tries to play with the neighborhood kids a parent injures him thinking that the ape might be trying to hurt his children. Will takes him to the local zoo for stitches by the animal doctor Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto). Years later Caesar has grown in to an adult showing vast amounts of intelligence and skills that was apparently passed on to him from his mother while she was on AZL112. Will has decided to inject his father with the AZL112 thinking it would help him with his illness of which it did for a period of time. His body down the road decided to reject the drug causing Charles to spiral into a worse physical condition. One afternoon Charles gets into an argument with a neighbor in the front of their house. Caesar’s instincts to become protective lead him to attack the neighbor biting the finger from the man which quickly resulting authorities to step in. Caesar is taken away placed in a local primary center under the watchful eyes of John Landon (Brian Cox), his son Dodge (Tom Felton) and assistant Rodney (Jamie Harris).
Although extremely intelligent the other apes in the enclosure do not take well to Caesar, especially since he enters the enclosure wearing the clothes of a human. Soon Caesar with the assistance of Buck (Richard Ridings), an extremely aggressive gorilla, take over leadership of all the other apes planning a forceful escape against the humans that have abused them while in the sanctuary. Their ultimate plan attack Genesis and escape to the Muir forest, a redwoods national park where Will used to take Caesar to climb the trees that stretch to the clouds with a distant view of the city. But getting from point A, the sanctuary to point B, the Genesis Corporation, to point C, their final destination the redwoods, proves to be a taunting task as they fight off local authorities in a battle for freedom.
All along as this is going on we learn that one of the technicians was infected with AZL113, an advanced formula of its predecessor AZL112. Although it improves the intelligence of the ape species it becomes a deadly virus amongst humans. We learn at that point just how the virus is spread which in turn begins the end to the human race making the apes the dominant species on earth with learned intelligence and the power of speech.
Growing up as a huge fan of the original “Planet of the Apes” I must say I enjoyed them more than this new, modern, special effects laced version. There were times while watching the CGI effects of the apes that they looked realistic and times that they looked too humanistic in their appearance and gestures. Grant it in the original the apes were humans dressed up with phenomenal make-up jobs but it just seemed more frightening then watching computer infused apes as the actors try matching precise movements to the body actors. I think the biggest part of this film for me was the struggle of moral ethics and the fact of science taking it upon themselves for human advancement in the medical world which ultimately leads to the destruction of mankind. Does man have the right to act as God? Humans treat most animals as experiments in a lab or as a food source brutally and inhumanely treated within factory farms raised for human consumption but give them the power of speech and the whole idea of humans as the super-power species is flawed. I believe the animals are extremely intelligent in their own right and not having the power of speech is just one attribute that does not necessarily lower their status in the world. They are able to achieve many things in life that humans cannot but we look at those lesser abilities as a reason to treat them the way that we do. This film makes you think about the what if’s and this story does an excellent job in doing so! As for action and entertainment values of this story I found it to lack making the viewer want more. It lifts the audience up for what may be a bitter battle but drops them hitting the ground with a strong thud, mainly because these apes are instructed by Caesar not to hurt humans in their fight for freedom in the trees.
Being a fan of the sometimes awkward in real life, Franco, he always seems to pull off the role in which he plays on the big screen and once again he did just that making the audience feel his excitement and pain even if only for short spurts since the apes totally ruled this story. His relationship with Pinto seems a little forced and she is mainly treated as a bit of a pawn in this game of chess with the apes making the final move of check mate. Even the role of Jacobs, Will’s boss, the man you want to hate is not truly developed enough as a character to make you cheer when he meets his fate against the apes on the Golden Gate Bridge. The film does a nice job of developing the primates, using some names straight from the original ape films and their role they play in taking over the world. Although it seems to forget about the humans, with the exception of a Charlton Heston appearance, truly making them look like idiots lost in the struggle for scientific answers to the health issues that affect them rather than facing the wrath of a nuclear holocaust as in the original. Overall the story just seems to come to an end making you feel like there should be more which of course leaves it open for a sequel to the apes rise to dominance of the human species. At this point a speculation but not a fact! I thoroughly enjoyed the film even with its holes in the story, lack of luster and weak ending but strong concept. Tim Burton’s view years ago was a closer version to the originals making it for me a bit more entertaining than this take on digital apes, although making the apes more realistic looking than any other “Planet of the Apes” movie. I believe its opening weekend will be strong but since the apes have power of speech word of mouth may knock most of these chimps off their branches for the long climb. If one thing should be learned about this film it should be that wild animals belong in the wild and not in your living room since the instinct to run free no matter what the cost or casualty will forever be imbedded within their souls. Written with two paws I’m Jon Patch.