Caesar is Home: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
As long as there are films, there will be reboots. It’s a trend that’s been alive as long as modern franchising, and one that has produced more than a few great films. But as the market becomes more and more reliant on retellings of past classics, it’s been increasingly challenging to find a reboot that doesn’t feel like a blatant reselling of past iconography. Cut to 2011, where 20th Century Fox begins their Planet of the Apes franchise resurgence with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a blockbuster with an absolute doozy of a title that aimed to retell the Apes story from the beginning, taking a straight science-fiction approach rather than the resounding weirdness of the originals. The film is impatient and often times pretty lazy, but first time director Rupert Wyatt’s conviction that Rise can take the series into a tonally and narratively unique direction from the original series makes this a surprisingly confident and sometimes thoughtful blockbuster.
The film begins as a story about Will Rodman (James Franco), a neuroscientist at the San Francisco based biotech company Gen-Sys on the brink of discovering the cure to alzheimer's in the form of a viral-based drug called ALZ-112. Will forms a special relationship with Caesar, a baby ape that he takes home to live with him and his dying father after Caesar’s mother is killed in a lab rampage. Caesar inherited an extremely advanced intelligence from his mother, who Gen-Sys tested the ALZ-112 on, resulting in the ape intellectually developing faster than any human can. After Caesar becomes too large and aggressive to live at home, he’s moved to a primate shelter where he is abused by his caretakers and fellow apes. Caesar gains the respect of the apes when he realizes he must coexist with them, and after he gasses the shelter with the newly created Gen-Sys drug ALZ-113, the apes overthrow their human caretakers and storm the city of San Francisco.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not a great movie, but it’s filled with extremely smart character moments throughout. Will is a prominent character in the beginning of the picture, but as Caesar develops and you witness his worldview start to take shape, the film understands that this it's his movie you want to see. Caesar’s growth is so well tracked that it’s almost impossible not to root for the apes during the final battle, as they tear through riot control on the foggy expanse of the Golden Gate Bridge. The film’s portrayal of the apes’ uprising is thrilling and pretty much the main reason this movie works as well as it does — the way it makes you side with the humans as they attempt to cure the incurable before you turn on them as they ignore the drug’s hazardous effects for blind profit. Caesar’s origin is so infectious and well told that you’ll pretty much come to the same conclusion that he does by the end of the film: humanity was born to die.
The human stuff is obnoxiously mundane; Will’s relationship with his father is especially poorly done. It’s never given the proper time to breathe and ends up feeling utterly weightless, which is hugely detrimental to a movie that uses their connection as the reasoning behind the ALZ-112’s creation and, eventually, the end of the world. Will and Caesar’s relationship is also not particularly affecting, most likely because not ten minutes after Will takes him home, a title card appears telling you that years have past, followed by James Franco explaining to you in voiceover how their relationship has developed (hint: not in any remotely interesting way). This title card appears later on in the movie and it’s just as annoying as the first.
It stumbles, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes is far more confident and powerful than most blockbusters you’ll see nowadays, and that’s because the film really commits to Caesar’s story. The human stuff is just noise, but Andy Serkis’ unbelievable performance as Caesar really sells you on this genetically enhanced ape leading an uprising. For a film lacking in so many areas, it does a miraculous job of holding your interest, because Rise of the Planet of the Apes does something that not a lot of blockbusters do nowadays... it knows the story it wants to tell: this is Caesar’s story.