It’s not every week Hollywood releases a film praising revolution. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, though, places itself firmly on the side of a downtrodden chimp—and sees him lead a powerful ape uprising.
There was reportedly pressure not to release the film in Britain after the recent riots. It is easy to see why.
“Rise” is an attempt to give a fresh start—a “reboot”—for the Planet of the Apes film series.
The main human character is Will (James Franco), a scientist at a big pharmaceutical firm working on a cure for Alzheimer’s. Will’s own father suffers from the disease.
While doing animal tests, he stumbles on a drug that dramatically increases apes’ intelligence.
His boss, Jacobs, pushes for ever more dangerous—and profitable—experiments with the medicine. “You make history,” he tells Will. “I make money.”
But it all starts to go wrong when the first super-intelligent chimp suddenly goes berserk, bursting into a company board meeting. Security guards shoot her dead, and the testing programme is shut down.
One chimp survives the ordeal: her baby, Caesar. Will smuggles him home, and it quickly becomes obvious that he has inherited his mother’s intelligence genes.
This is a film of three parts. It spends its first half an hour or so playing at family drama as Caesar grows up and comes of age.
This part is sometimes dull, though certainly convincing. Caesar is played by actor Andy Serkis through
cutting-edge motion-capture. It’s the same computer graphics technology used in Avatar, but now blended seamlessly with real footage.
Part two is like a classic prison flick showing the harsh treatment of life inside, in this case at an “ape sanctuary”.
This is a sharp education for Caesar, as he is cast out of the comfortable world of humanity and into the cells of the oppressed apes.
It is also the political heart of the film, as Caesar figures out how to organise and lead the other primates.
The voiceless chimp uses hand gestures to tell an orangutan what he’s learned. “Apes alone, weak,” he signs, snapping a stick. Then he grasps a bundle of sticks and shows it won’t break: “Apes together, strong.”
The final and best part, though, is the uprising itself. The turning point is a brilliant reversal of the original’s classic line, “Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!”
The first Planet of the Apes was released in 1968, the great year of rebellion. It reflected the anger of the civil rights movement, and the fear of nuclear annihilation.
Rise is loosely based on the fourth film of the original series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes—which in turn was based on the then-recent Watts riots in 1965 Los Angeles.
Producing a film that paralleled that uprising was an intensely political act. The six days of looting and fire-starting sparked by police racism had, as ever, been widely condemned as “criminality”.
It was said that in some cinemas Conquest’s soundtrack could hardly be heard above the sound of audiences cheering.
Unlike the 2001 Tim Burton “reimagining”, which shied away from politics, this film has taken up that mantle.
It manages to capture something of this year’s spirit of resistance, from the Arab Spring to the strikes and protests sweeping much of the world.
Time magazine says that in its finale, Rise of the Planet of the Apes becomes “a Marxist view of the oppressed masses edging towards revolution”. But there’s no “edging” involved—this is a full-scale gorilla uprising.
It wouldn’t be fair to give away the ending. But if you want to see “the feds” get a bloody good hiding, see this film.