The Planet of the Apes trilogy is my third favorite trilogy of all-time (behind the original Star Wars trilogy and The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and I decided to revisit the three films with some of my friends. While I only saw each film once before revisiting these films, the impact they left was lasting. Upon revisit, I enjoyed each film even more than I did the first time, especially the first film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
The film begins through the eyes of Will Rodman (played by James Franco), a pharmaceutical chemist working at Gen-Sys, a biotech company in San Francisco. His father has Alzheimer’s and he is working to find the cure. After a test on a chimp that enhances her intelligence, she is put down after rampaging across the facility, Will takes in her infant and raises him, naming him Caesar (voiced by Andy Serkis). As Caesar grows in intelligence, he begins to question his place in the world and after being taken to a primate shelter, he experiences many atrocities from his caretakers. He attempts to ally himself with the other apes, etching an escape plan.
The film centers around Franco as Will and Serkis as Caesar. Franco is primarily known for his comedic and over-the-top performances (The Interview, The Disaster Artist, Pineapple Express). In this film, he sells his serious role well in the movie. He is a desperate man looking to save his father and later in the film, Caesar. The raw emotion Franco presents makes his scenes more impactful, making me care about the scenes he is in.
However, the star of the show is Serkis as Caesar, one of my favorite characters in film. In all three revisits of the franchise, this will be a recurring topic, deservedly so. It is an absolute shame Serkis never won an Academy Award for his work in the trilogy. The fact he can make a non-human character feel human and sympathetic is a testament to his great acting and motion-capture work. He expresses a wide range of emotions, allowing the audience to easily tell how he is feeling without him saying a word for most of the film.
While Rise is the weakest of the three films, it does a fantastic job setting up the world and Caesar’s story, the two things this film needed to do well if this trilogy was going to work. The next two films take place in a post-apocalyptic world, giving Rise the task to make the transition believable and effective. It does this by showing the downfall of humanity through capitalistic greed and human arrogance.
Steven Jacobs, Will’s boss at Gen-Sys, does not listen to Will after the Bright Eyes incident as he wants to make as much money as possible. He doesn’t work with Will, the one who has developed the ALZ-112 and ALZ-113 drugs, and because of that, the drug leaks, spreading a virus that ends up wiping out most of humanity. Due to his arrogance and greed, he misuses the drug in a careless manner just because he wanted to become rich quickly. In a capitalist society, situations happen like this to a lesser degree and the film portrays this in a realistic manner.
As for Caesar, his character grows and changes often throughout the trilogy, this film being a great origin story for him. As he reaches adolescence, he begins to question his standing in the world and his place of birth. This allows him to break free from the comfort zone of Will’s home, opening his eyes to the horrors of humanity. When he is locked in the primate shelter, he sees how other apes negatively view him due to his increased intelligence. He must earn their trust, using values he learned during his upbringing. His sense of good shines through as he becomes the alpha chimp of the shelter. Combined with his sense of determination, he becomes a role model for the other apes. This growth, combined with Serkis’ acting, make his time in the shelter the best aspect of the film.
My one negative with the film is the other human characters outside of Will and his girlfriend. There are few if any redeeming qualities about them, lessening the impact when the credits show a map showing the virus spreading across the globe. I get that Rise had to balance a human protagonist along with Caesar’s time with the apes who will play a larger role in the upcoming films. However, I would have the film showing how the virus affected Will, which would have made the ending hit harder emotionally.
Overall, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a very good introduction to a fantastic trilogy. The world-building and development of Caesar’s character made the film satisfying to watch. While it is the weakest film of the trilogy, is still a great film, one I recommend checking out.