Go Apes!

I guess I’m a sucker for a good freedom story. I was hoping the origin of the ape-world would finally deliver something watchable, and it did.
Some spoilers.

Rise toys with the idea of two protagonists, James Falco as an ambitious scientist racing to cure his father of Alzheimer’s and Caesar, the unintended consequence of one of his failed experiments.

Caesar becomes the protagonist as the film switches from primarily human-centric to fully ape-centered once in the ape prison/dungeon where Caesar has been sent-up.

While Falco tries to spring the “pet” from his captivity, an astonishing rebirth occurs among the ape inmates.

This is where the film delivers the goods, making a hero of a digitally crafted chimpanzee, who acts at least as well as his human counterparts. By unabashedly telling the ape’s tale, without words, the film sticks with its premise . It gives weight to the ideas in play, like man’s treatment of animals, and of a universal desire to be free, to grow, to excel, to make a better world for one’s self and one’s group.

At first life is tough on the inside with asshole specist (racist) prison guards. The joint is also ruled by the largest alpha male who is no pushover either.

Caesar, however, has an exponentially expanding intelligence, courtesy of Falco’s drug trials. He manages to outsmart the prison system, the pharmaceutical corporation, and even the police and humanity writ large! That’s a hell of an ape.

And you have to root for the apes, which is the genius behind the film. Even though they’re going to wipe us out and be our overlords some day, it’s our fault really. If we hadn’t behaved so atrociously in the first place, nor so stupidly creating genetically engineered pandemics without a care to the consequences, we might have lasted.

I guess the real shame is that the apes can only survive in digital form in the
movies. Reality sees the destruction of their habitats and an inevitable extinction on the horizon thanks to the very same carelessness, stupidity, and hubris shown elsewhere in the film.

As we treat the apes, they will eventually treat us. Perhaps not so badly. Caesar is not a bloodthirsty caricature with an assault rifle (like numerous so-called “heroes” these days). He wants only his freedom, to be as autonomous and secure from attack as we take for granted. He’s an underdog, under-ape. His quest is justified and noble. And dammit, the apes stand up for themselves to put most of obese sloth America to shame.

It’s refreshing to get such a large dose of freedom, justice and adrenalin without the usual baggage Hollywood routinely ties on.

Rise opens with a poignant dissonance between what Falco believes in his haze of both desperation and arrogance versus what his chemical concoction is really doing to one of the apes he’s been injecting. From that point forward, the plot moves and escalates, very rarely slowing down at all. It’s very well crafted to keep the viewer interested.

The scene of apes running wild through the streets of San Francisco gets a bit digital and video-gamish for a few moments. But the stand-off on the Golden Gate Bridge is well thought out and has magnificent visuals. They really saved the big bucks for that war sequence.

As far as mainstream popcorn “tent pole” movies go, this one rocks. See it on the big screen.

Joe Giambrone is a filmmaker and author of Hell of a Deal: a Supernatural Satire. He edits the Political Film Blog. He be reached at: polfilmblog at gmail.