The windows of Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Is it too early to declare ‘film of the year’?

It’s hard to describe how Rise of the Planet of the Apes fits into the Planet of the Apes franchise. I can tell you straight up: it has nothing to do with the Mark Walberg film.

This film tells the story of how the planet began to be taken over by the Apes, which means it serves as a prequel to the original Planet of the Apes film, replacing the original prequels. It’s not a readaptation of that tale: an entirely new and unrelated genesis story has been constructed. So, I guess it’s a reboot of the original prequels.

Whatever it is, the movie finds itself an excellent place in the franchise, as it is infinitely more interesting and meaningful than the previous attempted reboot.

To be fair, it’s even a better prequel than the original prequel. It simply has a greater verisimilitude than Conquest of the Planet of the Apes – in which the explanation of the Ape overthrow is simply that they got tired of being pets, and when one was born smart enough to talk (his parents traveled back in time from the setting of the original film), he magically taught the rest of the apes to speak, and that was enough to make them as smart as people.

That origin story has always bothered me. As much as I loved the franchise of films, that point always stuck out. Now I can replace the previous film in my head with the new one, and the entire series of films suddenly makes a lot more sense.

This film focuses on the character of Caesar, a chimpanzee being raised by the scientist who developed a brain-building virus to cure Alzheimer’s, which his father is afflicted with. The scientist, played well by James Franco, had injected Caesar’s mother with the virus, and discovers it has been passed to Caesar in the womb. The virus which was originally intended only to repair damaged brains, results in the Ape becoming more intelligent than a human of the same age, though he still retains many ape instincts. It seems at first like the film will focus on Franco’s character, but it becomes quickly clear the film is about Caesar.

Other characters are not incidental; however, their development, and the way they challenge Caesar is excellently crafted to show the ape in a sympathetic light. You know going in that this film depicts the beginning of the end of humankind on Earth, but still one cannot help but feel for Caesar, almost to root for him. The feeling is a striking contradiction, and it leaves the audience feeling humanized and awed.

Of course, the great characterization of the apes would not have been possible without the fantastic motion capture acting and tech. Each ape has a distinct personality, and the effects technology really brings them to life. We don’t get a name for every ape, but several of them are obviously developing into distinct and recognizable social roles some of which are clearly being set up for conflict in future films.

It also helps that the action scenes in this film are never gratuitous. Many effects films will throw in action scenes early in the story, just to get more action in, even when there is no real reason for action that soon in the plot.

This film dares to break with convention by only giving us our action scenes when we need them to move forward, and those scenes are much better for it. Each moment feels powerful and necessary. Nothing is wasted, and for the first time in years, I found myself literally gaping at the screen in amazement at the power and drama of a film. 

The special effects are outstanding, but the film is far from just a showcase for the effects. It’s a truly moving and epic story with an outstanding cast. There is no one who should miss this powerful film.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is in theaters now.