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Video Reviews

Plugged In Rating
MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Cast
James Franco as Will Rodman; Freida Pinto as Caroline Aranha; John Lithgow as Charles Rodman; Andy Serkis as Caesar; Tyler Labine as Robert Franklin; David Oyelowo as Steven Jacobs
Director
Rupert Wyatt
Distributor
20th Century Fox
In Theaters
August 5, 2011
On Video
December 13, 2011
Reviewer
Bob Hoose
Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Will Rodman is a scientist who has to scurry. Day by day he watches as his beloved father succumbs to the ravages of Alzheimer's disease. And he'll give everything he's got, push every timeline, cut any corner to find a cure before it's too late.

So when, after five years of study and trial, Chimpanzee No. 9 shows marked cognitive improvement with a drug labeled ALZ112, Will is ready to rush the results to the board and get on to human trials. It's definitely bending protocols. But Steven Jacobs, Will's boss, is seeing dollar signs. If this stuff works, it could make everybody involved very, very rich.

When the board and corporate reps show up, however, something goes terribly wrong. Chimpanzee No. 9 starts, well, going ape. She attacks her handlers and smashes everything in sight. The rampaging chimp is killed. And Jacobs demands that the whole project and its simian subjects be quickly disposed of.

Only after it's too late does Will realize that No. 9's violence wasn't caused by an adverse reaction to the drug. Unbeknownst to her handlers, the female chimp had just given birth the night before. So she was protecting her baby in the only way she knew. And that one fact, missed in the rush of the moment, unseen in their flush of success, had ruined everything.

Then again, maybe it wasn't all ruined. Will still has the drug. And ethics violation or not, he determines to try it on his failing dad.

It works. The disoriented man improves overnight.

No. 9's baby doesn't develop quite that fast. But by 18 months the little guy—Will names him Caesar—is displaying incredible intelligence and comprehensive abilities. He's already able to communicate over 20 words in sign language. And by 24 months he's solving puzzles that would stump an 8-year-old human child.

Maybe this will work out. Perhaps the problems in the lab were for the best and Will can perfect his scientific discovery on his own. Not only that, he can keep his chimpanzee "son" to himself—hiding him away in the attic. Ultimately, Will figures, his work might make a monumental impact on all of mankind!

But if any of you remember a certain classic flick from the late 1960s, you know exactly what kind of monkey business mankind can expect.

Positive Elements

Will's dedicated love for his dad fuels a passion to see a new curative drug to completion. That drive at first leads him to make some foolish and unethical choices. But with experience, and what could be seen as painful mistakes, Will decides that experiments with his new strengthened formula, ALZ113, demand a more cautious approach.

There's no question that Will and his father, Charles, grow to love their chimp charge Caesar. And Caesar loves them in return as family. When a bewildered Charles is threatened, Caesar leaps to his defense and then moves to comfort him.

At one point an upset Caesar signs to Will, asking if he's (merely) a pet. Will immediately replies with, "No. I'm your father." And Will works hard to live up to that title. When Caesar's sent to a primate shelter, he draws a chalk window on his wall to remind him of his family and his room back home. And he mirrors Will's care for him in his relationships with other apes.

Spiritual Content

The movie monkeys around with what it might look like for men to play God.

Sexual Content

Will and his veterinarian girlfriend Caroline kiss. And we see the pair in bed. (The scene is years later, and it's never stated whether they married or not.)

Violent Content

Trailers for Rise of the Planet of the Apes make it appear that this is predominantly a rampaging man-vs.-ape war movie. It's really not. But there are still more than just a few violent moments. Early on, an upset female ape smashes windows and throws her human handlers into walls and furniture. When Caesar leaps to protect Charles, he knocks a neighbor man head over heels off his porch and bites the man's hand, nipping off his finger. That same neighbor strikes out at the chimp in another scene, opening up a gash in the creature's leg. We see Caroline stitching up the wound.

When Caesar is sent to a primate shelter, a young attendant there, Dodge, hits him with an electric prod and slams him into a wall with a stream of high-pressure water. Later, after a brief battle between the attendant and several apes, Caesar manages to turn the water back on Dodge, electrocuting him in the process when the liquid hits his zapping device. Caesar also slams a human into the bars of his cage and beats an ape into submission with a metal can.

As a simian army takes shape, apes of all shapes and sizes smash through windows, turn over cars and busses, rip up metal fence posts for spears, bash human opponents with their enormous fists, and generally raise havoc on the streets of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. But Caesar's not out for blood. Tolerating one accidental death, he repeatedly orders his gorilla and chimp forces to spare the lives of their human foes. (We do see Caesar refuse to help one villainous man—who is pushed to his death after Caesar has turned and walked away.)

Humans, on the other hand, aren't quite so cautious with animal life. The police open fire on the simian hordes with rifles, pistols and automatic weapons, mowing down the creatures by the dozens.

On a different front, an animal handler at the lab accidentally ingests a drug and gets sick, sneezing up blood. We later see him dead in his room with gore covering his face and hand.

Crude or Profane Language

God's name is combined twice with "d‑‑n." Jesus' is abused once. A half-dozen exclamations of "h‑‑‑" and one or two uses of "a‑‑" show up too. One quick crowd scene contains an unfinished "what the …"

Drug and Alcohol Content

The drug variations ALZ112 and ALZ113—described as virus serums—are injected and/or otherwise transmitted to both apes and humans. Some of the animals have these drugs forced on them while tied down. After killing the chimpanzee subjects being experimented on in the ALZ112 project (offscreen), an animal trainer leaves Will a syringe of some kind of deadly drug to eliminate the last baby chimp. Will refuses to use it.

When Dodge sneaks some friends in to see the apes, they arrive with a six pack and several open bottles of beer. One guy moves to give a beer to Caesar, but the chimp doesn't take it.

Other Negative Elements

Caesar picks someone's pocket and steals his knife.

Conclusion

All this apes-hate-humans action began way back in 1968 with the Charlton Heston-fronted original Planet of the Apes. That slightly campy romp became an instant classic, in large part because of its shocker of an ending. From there, the Apes legend and lore went through four '70s sequels and prequels, a TV show and a tepid 2001 Tim Burton-directed remake. Now it's taking off again—with teeth bared and intelligent simian eyes flashing—offering up what amounts to an entertaining high-tech reboot.

The CGI here is incredible. It's dominated by an enhancing/aping motion-capture of Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong), allowing for the genius chimp Caesar to really come to life rather than looking like a guy wearing a good monkey suit and makeup. That alone helps some of the story's more silly elements and tender moments feel more plausible and realistic.

As for themes, lots of folks figure the Apes franchise is all about evolution. This film definitively isn't. It's actually more like Captain America … with monkeys. Caesar and his compatriots are the result of a virus-filled drug that puts their gray matter on steroids, not natural selection.

So beyond some dramatic tiptoeing around corporate greed, human compassion, mistreatment of animals, the love of family and even a bit of teen rebellion, the use (misuse?) of those steroidal stand-ins sets the stage for provocative musings on the question of whether or not mankind should use its scientific know-how to, well, play God. The film's roaring conclusion? No!

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