“Why Cookie Rocket?” Looking Back at RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

by     Posted 161 days ago

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[With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opening on Friday, July 11th, I'm taking a look back at the Planet of the Apes movie franchise. These reviews contain spoilers.]

The Planet of the Apes movies have always been interested with time.  The original movie opens with Taylor (Charlton Heston) explaining that his spaceship’s mission isn’t to explore the galaxy, but to use Einstein’s Law of Relativity to leave Earth and return in the distant future where it might not be such a shithole (Taylor was disappointed).  From there, Beneath carried the torch to extinction, Escape traveled back in time, Conquest took a twenty-year jump to begin the downfall of humans, and Battle has a prologue and epilogue that take place in 2670 AD.  So it’s fitting that the series’ reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, would restart the clock to unload the baggage of the previous movies rather than throwing us back into the middle of the madhouse.  While it didn’t carry the heavy commentary of the original saga, Rise took a new path by putting a strong focus on family and bringing a level of spectacle far beyond what any Apes film had done before.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is filled with major and minor nods to the original, and in the first scene we see humans as the ones with the nets as they round up apes in an unknown jungle.  We then move to Gen-Sys and experiments on “Bright Eyes”, which isn’t just a reference to the original movie, but also becomes a plot point to signal that an ape given the ALZ-112 or ALZ-113 formula to repair brain damage or increase intelligence, respectively, has a side effect of adding a green glow to the ape’s eyes.

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Dr. Will Rodham (James Franco) is on the verge of a breakthrough, and believes the experiments on Bright Eyes work.  However, in the middle of giving his presentation to Gen-Sys’ board of directions, Bright Eyes seemingly goes nuts, rampages through the facility, and has to be shot dead by security.  Will’s callow boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) believes the ALZ-112 made the apes go mad, and orders them to be exterminated.  All of the apes are put down, but then Will and the lab’s chimp handler Robert Franklin (Tyler Labine) discover that Bright Eyes had a baby, and she went crazy because she believed her child was about to be taken away.

The protection of family is one of the central themes in Rise.  After Will reluctantly takes the baby chimp home, we discover that his father Charles (John Lithgow) suffers from Alzheimer’s, and that’s what pushes Will to try and discover a cure.  Just as Bright Eyes wanted to save her baby, Will wants to save his father, and in the process Will and Charles end up making the young chimp a member of their family.  They name the baby “Caesar”, which isn’t just a reference to one of the saga’s central character, but also a name befitting the leader he will become (as opposed to “Cornelius” or some other reference they could have made).

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We quickly learn that Bright Eyes passed down the ALZ-112 formula down to Caesar, which makes him far more intelligent than any ape.  He learns sign language and forms an emotional bond with Will and Charles, although he laments having to be kept a secret.  But as Caesar grows older, he begins to question his existence, and learns that while he’s not a pet, he’s caught between worlds.  He’ll never be accepted among humans and he’s never lived amongst apes.  “What is Caesar?” he asks Will.

The answer comes when Caesar, after over-zealously protecting Charles from an angry neighbor, is forced to live in an animal control facility with other apes.  At this point, the movie truly belongs to Caesar, and Will is mostly creating plot points leading up to the virus that will destroy humanity.  There’s still a bond between the two characters, but the real story is Caesar finding his place in the world and making a new family in the process.

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Previous Apes movies have had an emotional core, but none with maybe the exception of Escape have hit it as hard as Rise.  The family aspect is what grounds the entire movie, and it’s essential because without the relationships between Will and Charles, Will and Caesar, and most importantly, Caesar and his fellow apes, the film is just a showcase for amazing visual effects.

To be clear, the effects are almost as crucial as the character relationships.  The previous Apes movies still did a tremendous job of conveying emotions no matter how rudimentary the makeup may seem to modern audiences, and the advances Rick Baker made with Burton’s remake probably could have held up.  The problem is that they don’t fit with the movie’s need to have the apes move naturally.  So much of their personality is conveyed through movement, and since we’re not at the phase in ape history where all apes are moving upright, there needs to be a consistency in their appearance.  The only way to effectively convey movement is with CGI and so the entire movie follows suit rather than trying to walk the line between makeup for the slow scenes and CGI for the spectacle.

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This all leads to Andy Serkis taking on the role of Caesar and giving it its gravity.  He can’t move as fast as Caesar or jump from tree branch to tree branch, but his up-close performance is what hooks us in.  Franco may have had top billing, but this is Serkis’ movie, and it’s a performance that does justice to what Roddy McDowall did before.  There’s still the same cunning, anger, and frustration we saw in Conquest; technical advances have just made these emotions more detailed.

For all of the science mumbo-jumbo about an aerosol virus making apes super-smart and killing off all of the humans, the “Rise” comes from Caesar and how he became the leader of the apes.  “Why Cookie Rocket?” is the film’s most memorable line because it is kind of funny to use “cookie” as a verb in relation to a direct object named “Rocket”.  But it also sums up why Caesar is a brilliant leader.  Rather than make himself a singular voice, he delegates.  If he’s going to make a new family, he has to give them responsibility.  Otherwise, they’re all just “pets”.

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All of this is conveyed with almost no dialogue or a few bits of sign language.  Caesar only speaks two lines of dialogue in the movie: “No” when he rebels against cruel caretaker Dodge Landon (Tom Felton) and at the end when he tells Will, “Caesar is home.”  This is a movie driven by facial expression and actions.  And while I love the small stuff inside the animal control center, the third act shows the movie’s concessions to the modern blockbuster marketplace.

In my original review, I noted the many ways Rise breaks from the blockbuster formula, and I still hold to that.  However, it also breaks from the previous Apes movies by avoiding uncomfortable social commentary in favor of the warm feelings of family bonding and the action spectacle that audiences (and studios) demand from summer tentpoles.  It’s a modern Apes film in more ways than one, and while I’m a bit bummed out that it doesn’t challenge the audience, it absolutely delivers on the emotions and the set pieces.

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And yet it never entirely breaks from the original movies.  There’s a passion for the original Apes films that’s completely absent from Burton’s remake.  Rise is packed with subtle Easter eggs that tells fans of the original, “We appreciate these movies as much as you do.”  There are cute touches like Caesar building a model of the Statue of Liberty to deep cuts like naming the orangutan “Maurice” after Maurice Evans who played Dr. Zaius in the original movie.  Then there are notes from the earlier films that have a major connection such as Caesar shouting “No!” (like Cornelius said when he related ape history in Escape) and the flight of the Icarus, which is the name of Taylor’s ship.  These little moments show that while we may not be in precisely the same mythology of the original saga, we’re not quite out of it either.

That extends to the tragic aspect of the story.  If the apes rise, it means humanity falls, but there’s no indictment of our species in the reboot.  In the special features on the Blu-ray, co-writer Rick Jaffa tries to say that the story condemns hubris, but I don’t think Rise really goes into that.  You could argue, as Jaffa does, that Jacobs displays hubris, but it’s really straight-up greed rather than reckless excitement about pushing the boundaries of human intelligence.  At best, it’s the generalized hubris of any movie where well-intentioned science causes horrible things to happen.

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Granted, Rise does try to push humanity’s downfall to the background as much as possible.  We don’t see Will coughing up blood or bodies piling up in the streets.  We see an occasional shot of Franklin going through the symptoms before dying, and then the spread of the virus is communicated using graphics during the end credits.  I’m actually surprised the original ending had Will being shot to death and his murderers being ripped apart by apes.  Yes, it’s a mirror of the opening scene, but it wouldn’t fit with the overall tone, nor would it strengthen the theme about family. Again, Rise isn’t about making the audience feel upset.  It wants to give them a positive message about family and community plus apes riding horses and a gorilla bringing down a helicopter.

As I said in my piece about the remake of Planet of the Apes, the future of the franchise isn’t obligated to make profound comments on history, sociology, current events, etc.  What I like about these movies is that even when they’re being preachy, they’re still kind of fun, and in that respect, Rise of the Planet of the Apes carries on that tradition.  It’s a character-driven piece augmented with a level of spectacle that the original saga couldn’t achieve due to budgetary and technical limitations.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes may have been caged by modern expectations of blockbuster films, but it was still free to follow in the tradition of the previous films.  It’s also free to forge a new path.

Rating: B+

[Tomorrow: My review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes]

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  • Kyle Chandler

    Thanks for all the Look-backs, Matt! I rewatched “Rise” the other night but i’m not going to have time to go through the original series until after this weekend. Definitely built the hype for Dawn!

    Even with the flaws in this movie, we would consider ourselves blessed if this much attention to character and story was paid to every summer blockbuster. Now I just have to place my vote for more summer blockbusters like Rise and Dawn with my dollars this weekend.

  • jocab_w

    I think the main conflict of the film is progress (of science, groups of people/apes) at the expense of morality.

    Will and the scientist at Gen Sys are working on bettering mankind through the ALZ drug, but at the cost of the apes that are being experimented on (ripping them away from their family and natural environment). Later on in the film after Caesar says “NO!” (love that scene), he kills Dodge. While his ape brethren are no longer being tormented by their jailer, we see that Caesar is upset that he had killed another, regardless of whether they were ape or human. This leads him to urge his fellow apes to not kill the humans during the uprising. He wants to better apekind without sacrificing his morality in the process, perhaps showing, optimistically, how this new society might learn from the mistakes of the current one.

    • Kyle Chandler

      Definitely! What I took from the film was the lengths that people are willing to go to to protect their family, and the fact that even selfless acts don’t come without a cost.

      Will is so obsessed with helping his father that he’s willing to unleash a new virus on the world (even unwittingly, but he had to know there was a chance). Meanwhile, the catalyst for the change in Ceasar is how he rushes to help Will’s father, and how he “adopts” the fellow apes.

  • agent777

    Kinda seems like they just merged Apes with a Michael Crichton storyline.

  • Person

    Gonna re-watch this tonight, haven’t seen it since it released. I remember hating the oh-so-obvious nods to the original and some of the casting, plus I always felt that the movie reduced the entire Ape Revolution to “Caesar was abused in this random ape sanctuary, so he took over the world to get back at a couple of bad seeds.” But it’s a solid summer movie otherwise, and obviously Serkis and WETA deserved that Oscar.

    Can’t help but thinking now that Dawn is about to release, the titles of the two movies should’ve been switched. Doesn’t it make more sense to call the first one Dawn and the second one Rise? Oh well.

    • Grayden

      “…plus I always felt that the movie reduced the entire Ape Revolution to “Caesar was abused in this random ape sanctuary, so he took over the world to get back at a couple of bad seeds.”

      Then you definitely need to watch it again, because that doesn’t even describe Rise at all.

      • Person

        Watched it again, and I’d say my description is pretty accurate. Caesar would never have revolted if he didn’t go to that sanctuary with Stryker and Malfoy abusing the apes. I understand that he was also upset about being Franco’s pet and all, but when he refuses to go back home, it’s more out of knowing what his place really is, and that never would’ve happened without that trip to monkey prison. That’s my only real complaint, since it kind of trivializes the whole series; the apes should’ve channeled their anger against Gen-Sys for abusing them and killing Caesar’s mom, but only Koba really seems to have a beef with them/Jacobs, and even the reasoning for that is murky (why Caesar allows Koba to kill Jacobs is a mystery to me, if someone could explain that’s be great).

      • Person

        Watched it again, and I’d say my description is pretty accurate. Caesar would never have revolted if he didn’t go to that sanctuary with Stryker and Malfoy abusing the apes. I understand that he was also upset about being Franco’s pet and all, but when he refuses to go back home, it’s more out of knowing what his place really is, and that never would’ve happened without that trip to monkey prison. That’s my only real complaint, since it kind of trivializes the whole series; the apes should’ve channeled their anger against Gen-Sys for abusing them and killing Caesar’s mom, but only Koba really seems to have a beef with them/Jacobs, and even the reasoning for that is murky (why Caesar allows Koba to kill Jacobs is a mystery to me, if someone could explain that’s be great).

  • sharon

    הקלד טקסט או כתובת אתר או תרגם מסמך.
    ביטול
    האם התכוונת ל: מאוד נהנתי לקרוא
    I really enjoyed reading the article, i look forward to “dawn” with Great anticipation .
    Thanks for the wonderful summary and diagnosis of “ries” .
    הקלד טקסט או כתובת אתר או תרגם מסמך.
    ביטול
    האם התכוונת ל: מאוד נהנתי לקרוא

    • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

      I agree.

  • sharon

    הקלד טקסט או כתובת אתר או תרגם מסמך.
    ביטול
    האם התכוונת ל: מאוד נהנתי לקרוא
    I really enjoyed reading the article, i look forward to “dawn” with Great anticipation .
    Thanks for the wonderful summary and diagnosis of “ries” .
    הקלד טקסט או כתובת אתר או תרגם מסמך.
    ביטול
    האם התכוונת ל: מאוד נהנתי לקרוא

  • sharon

    I really enjoyed reading the article, i look forward to “dawn” with Great anticipation .
    Thanks for the wonderful summary and diagnosis of “ries” .

  • Jex

    I gotta see this.

  • j-lettuce

    I completely agree that the central focus is about family, but I also think that ties into the strong animal rights themes. Vivisection, or animal testing on live animals in particular – ex: the fact that the virus makes humans sick but not the apes, I have animal advocate friends and one of their central arguments is that science has demonstrated several times that just because something works on apes (our closest relatives) it’s hubris to think it will also work on people (ie HIV vaccines that work on chimps). In addition to Caesar, there are moving scenes in which other apes are thrilled to be freed from their harsh reality imposed by humans, whether that be direct phyiscal abuse or simply being kept in tiny cages or bred for ‘science’. And that opening scene is both gut-wrenching and a sad reality that I’m glad they chose to include. I’m very glad this wasn’t a rah-rah kill the evil people flick, but I found it very touching when the apes made their way free of the city and back into their (almost) natural habitat.

  • Harry Wiener

    Goldberg, just put a sock in it!

    • Jeffy

      Hairy Wiener strikes again.

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