Rise of the Planet of the Apes

 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

****

 

Everybody watches movies. Everybody has an opinion about them. Most people are content to share their opinion with their family and friends.

Film critics like me feel a strange compulsion to share our ideas with strangers, as if our point of view is any more valid or important than yours.

Critics like me don’t contribute much to society.

But every so often a movie like this comes along. I actually feel like I am performing a valuable public service by getting the word out:

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is great!

Surprising, right? The previews make it look like a dumb action movie with cartoon gorillas killing humans.

I’m very happy to report that the movie is nothing like that. It isn’t an action flick at all; it’s a character study.

“Rise” tells the compelling story of one remarkable ape. His name is Caesar, and he was born in a pharmaceutical lab to a mother who had been given an experimental brain-enhancing drug treatment. Caesar is brilliant.

The scientist who developed the drug (James Franco) takes the special simian home and raises him like a son. But the more that young Caesar observes the world around him, the more he realizes how marginalized and powerless he is simply because he is not human.

When Caesar violently attacks a man, he is taken away from his family and incarcerated in a primate containment facility.

Like many smart people before him, prison transforms Caesar from a weak-willed victim to a focused leader. He decides that he would rather be a leader of apes than a follower of men.

Caesar masterminds an ape prison revolt and then assembles all of the primates in the greater San Francisco area into an ape army. The way his grand scheme slowly unfolds is fascinating and actually kind of believable.

More than that, though, director Rupert Wyatt gets you to genuinely understand Caesar and root for him. So when the inevitable climactic battle finally arrives, it isn’t just obligatory CGI filler – it really matters. We want to see General Caesar outsmart the humans, and we want to see how he does it.

The battle scene made me think about how it was that we Homo Sapiens became the dominant species on earth.

Probably in much the same way: a brilliant leader gathered a conquering army and systemically dominated and subjugated everyone in his path. “This is our world. Bow down to us or be destroyed.”

Maybe that is how Home Erectus and Neanderthal Man were eradicated, leaving Home Sapiens as the undisputed overlords of the planet.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a triumph. It is engrossing and thought-provoking. I don’t remember the last time I saw a summer popcorn movie this great.

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