Let’s be candid, Charlton Heston was a crappy actor. Tough, rugged, he played the same unemotional guy in just about every film, and the 1968 film Planet of the Apes was no different, where he played Colonel George Taylor, a man surprised to survive the crash landing of his spaceship just to find that on the Earth of the future, apes are in ascendancy and humans are slaves and pets. Still, the film is iconic and there are some amazing visual moments, notably including when he encounters a half-buried Statue of Liberty on the beach.
But what of the back story? What happened while he and his fellow astronauts were lost in space? How did monkeys rise and people lose their place at the top of the food chain? That’s exactly where the smart, exciting Rise of the Planet of the Apes fits in to the series. Emboldened by the love for his father (John Lithgow), genetic engineer and researcher Will Rodman (James Franco) creates an experimental DNA-altering drug called ALZ-112 and its stronger variant ALZ-113 to try and cure Alzheimer’s Disease before he loses his father completely.
His experiments lead him to inject ALZ-112 into a chimpanzee who then gives birth, but when she fears the humans are going to take the baby away, she gets violent, with frightening results, and the entire research project is shut down. The baby chimp, Caesar, is taken home by Will and becomes a member of the family. Except he’s not like other chimps, he’s wayyy smarter and when he comes to the defense of the now-cured father, he’s relegated to monkey jail, the San Bruno Primate Shelter.
Caesar doesn’t like that setup very much and he sneaks out, steals the more powerful ALZ-113, gives it to his fellow primates and they start to become smarter too, even as it turns out that the same drug in the wild has rather bad side effects for humans. The stage is set and when the monkeys break out of SBPS the fight for supremacy is on!
Sure there were some hiccups in the storyline but I found Rise of the Planet of the Apes very entertaining and reasonably plausible. There are lots of subtle nods to the original film — you have to pay attention! — and Andy Serkis did a terrific job with Caesar, making him a sympathetic, believable chimp. With the glossy production values of a summer blockbuster, I encourage you to check it out.
And bring some bananas, just in case things change radically while you’re in the theater…