Caesar *is* home
Every revolution needs a leader, a leader who grasps your palm and leads you forward, a leader with a voice of authority, a leader with a rage to break the shackles, a leader who commands respect from allies and enemies alike. The rise of leaders has been done in Hollywood before from Spartacus, to Braveheart, to Gladiator – in Rise of the Planet of the Apes it shows the rise of a primate who is aptly titled Caesar. It not just portrays the rise of a leader but also peels the various layers that come with it, the reason for inciting a revolution, the flipside of playing God when you mess with evolution, the conflict of an animal on where it belongs – among people of its own kind or amidst humans as a pet. Rise of the Planet of the Apes does seem like a ludicrous title, the plot may seem laughable what with the apes versus humans theme, but the execution is one to behold.
Rupert Wyatt has not only given us a fitting prequel to the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes, but has also revived the franchise that had been dead and buried after Tim Burton’s failed reboot of the 1968 version. The story opens in the labs of a drug company named Genesys where Will Rodman (James Franco) has finds a cure for Alzheimer’s through the drug ALZ112, but when a test on one of its subjects (a monkey named Bright Eyes) goes wrong the whole process is forced to shut down with the rest of the monkeys asked to be “put down” by Will’s money-minded boss Steven Jacobs. Unwilling to see an infant chimp end in a body bag with the rest of its kin, Will raises him along with his Alzheimer’s- affected father Charles (John Lithgow) who names him Caesar. With his mother Bright Eyes’ drug-tested genes within him, Caesar grows on to become a far more superior and highly intelligent primate than any of his kind. With a positive response to the drug this time with no apparent side-effects Will injects the drug on his father who responds well, but Will’s hopes are dashed when Charles once more starts regressing, his disorder too advanced to have been permanently cured.
Confined within four walls, his natural curiosity to explore the outside world only gets Caesar into trouble with the neighbors frequently. When one such incident goes horribly wrong, Caesar is handed over to a primate shelter run by the father-son duo of John Landon (Brian Cox) and the twisted Dodge Landon (Tom Felton). And it is from here on that we witness the birth of a leader in Caesar– caged, abused and trying to fit in with people of his own kind, the fury within Caesar gets the better of him as he sparks a revolt. The politics of rise to power is subtly yet wonderfully depicted within the apes when in one scene Caesar uses his wits by befriending a caged gorilla and uses him as a muscle to threaten another monkey who had been bullying him. We cheer for Caesar as he grows from a loving and cuddly antic-performing monkey who steals cookies to a shrewd politicking, havoc-wreaking, alpha-primate who retaliates when subjugated to the whims of the brat Dodge Landon. We understand the conflict that burns within Caesar who tries to understand his place where he belongs – in the jungle among people of his own as a King or amidst humans as a mere animal who is caged and subjected to tests and treacheries of man. Wyatt sets up a thrilling finale of the San Francisco takedown by the army of apes by building up Caesar’s evolution from a chimp to a champ, throughout the whole of first half and the initial part of second half. A minute yet symbolic shot of leaves falling from trees signals the beginning of a revolution, and from thereon the film hurtles towards a brilliant climax where we end up cheering for the apes.
James Franco as Will Rodman merely plays out a supporting role whose star power is used to bring in the crowd. Yet as Will he plays out an underlying performance of a man who starts out by giving shelter to an orphaned chimp, who raises him with love and care and teaches him of the ways of the world dominated by humans – like a father, but who ends up as someone who reasons with his adopted primate to stop the carnage and come back home. John Lithgow as Charles plays the role of Will’s Alzheimer-stricken father with a dignity, forgetful of his own car and on the basics of how to use a knife and a fork his portrayal of a helpless man tugs at our emotional chord. Frieda Pinto plays a primatologist, as Will Rodman’s love interest she supports his same enthusiasm for Caesar and shares his grief when Caesar is taken away from him. The veteran Brian Cox does a decent job of the caretaker of the facility, whilst as his on-screen son Tom Felton as Dodge Landon earns our hatred and applause when he gets a taste of his own medicine.
But the star of the show is Caesar played by a motion-captured Andy Serkis. Having already played as a motion-captured schizophrenic named Smeagol in the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Serkis’ every emotion and facial contortion is beautifully converted to the face of Caesar the ape. From his endearing eyes that reflect mischief as an adolescent to a pride and rage that glow on his face, Serkis’ Caesar is the selling point of the movie. The movie takes its time to develop as it chronicles the birth of a leader, his special gift, his conflict of emotions and in the end his emergence as the leader of the pack. Thanks to the watertight screenplay and brilliant direction by Wyatt the movie never tends to feel too long as most of the scenes are pivotal to the development of the character and keeps us engaged.
The ending leaves us with a hope of a sequel, and what with Caesar and his band of apes having conquered the Golden Gate the next stop seems to be New York. Watch out New York, for the apes have truly risen!