Ever since I went to the gorilla habitat at the zoo and found my eyes watering from (what I thought were) allergies, I haven’t been a big fan of apes. Nevertheless, the movie trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes looked pretty good. As a prequel to the classic sci-fi series where walking, talking apes in human clothing rule the Earth, the plot was not going to be much of a surprise. Human scientist (played by a two-armed James Franco) experiments with formula for super brain growth, and tries it on a chimpanzee. Chimpanzee becomes increasingly intelligent and eventually leads other apes to take over the world. Set in the modern day (not the future), this movie stays pretty grounded in reality (for science fiction anyway), but that’s also the movie’s downfall. If you give the appearance of realism, everything needs to make sense. Internal logic, timelines, and character motivations all need to be well thought out. If not, then you may have a lot of cool scenes (the CGI-animated expressions of Caesar, the super-intelligent ape were quite impressive), but the rest of the movie just seems to be set-up for those scenes.
When Caesar starts to speak to other apes in captivity, they seem to be very intelligent even without any treatments. This takes away from the impact of Caesar being super-intelligent. When he steals the chemicals to treat the other apes, there’s no reason he should know where they are or how to use them because they were not used on him. Even if he’s smart, he can’t read minds. If a normal human couldn’t figure it out, it’s illogical that he’d magically possess that knowledge. Third, when Caesar leads his army of apes around San Francisco, they don’t seem to need any directions to travel between locations very far apart. Even humans rely on street signs, maps, and GPS!
Then there’s the timelines. It took Caesar years to become as intelligent as he did, but after one dose of chemicals, all the other apes seem to become his posse overnight. Similarly, Caesar’s language development also took a long time, until the plot required that he understand something and then he becomes a language genius. Finally, there’s a certain contagious illness that plays a big part in the movie and one character contracts it but lasts for a while. Once it spreads, it seems to be affecting people more and more quickly without explanation.
On the other hand, the apes in this movie look amazing. It’s obvious that they are not actual apes, but it’s not because the computer animation is deficient at all. In fact, it might be because the expressions are too realistic and unnaturally resemble a human more than an ape. There’s an entire middle portion of the movie where Caesar is held in a pound for apes. While I didn’t enjoy this movie taking a long detour into the realm of the prison-movie, these animated apes not only pulled it off, it looked very natural and real.
Realism wasn’t only a problem for apes though. Even the humans suffered from weak characterization. James Franco’s character’s boss had very little purpose in this movie other than as an obstacle. First he tries to shut down Franco’s biochemical research, later he forces him to go ahead, then when Franco refuses, he decides to take it all over himself. When he first wanted to shut things down, Franco’s team must have shown him some successful test cases, yet he was unconvinced. Later, he became too easily convinced simply by seeing a chimp write his name on the board. A bigger question than that of why this CEO of the company is so weak-willed is why the apes even follow Caesar. It makes no sense that they would want to rampage the city in a directed way like that (though I guess in light of recent riots in the UK, maybe they are actually becoming more like humans!)
Even after all this logic-bashing, I did enjoy the movie and I recommend it as a bit of allergy-free escapism with a heavy-handed lesson about the dangers of medical experimentation. There are many good scenes, but overall the story seems a bit like it was typed out by monkeys. (3.5 out of 5)