What’s the Story?
Will Rodman (James Franco) wants to cure Alzheimer’s. To help him, he’s a genetic scientist or a doctor or something; he wears a white lab coat. Anyway, they’re at the “experiment on apes” stage of testing when the ape in question goes berserk (you can see where this is going, can’t you?), smashes her way out of the cages and into the boardroom full of exectutives (here it comes…) and gets shot to death.
Yeah. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
Turns out that she had a baby, and she was getting all angry and territorial. She wasn’t power-mad or bent on enslaving humans.
Unable to kill the baby monkey, Will takes it home and is immediately impressed by how wicked smart it is. He realises that his gene therapy has been transferred mother-to-son, so begins some sneaky behind-the-corporation’s-back detailing of what the drug does.
In time, Ceasar (the monkey) beat’s Will’s neighbour half to death to save Will’s father and is therefore locked up by the city in the ape quarantine place. Which is run by a bunch of oppressive, cruel dickheads.
So Ceasar starts a revolution, smartifies all the other monkeys, and breaks the hell loose.
Oh, also the virus accidentally spreads to humans and starts killing them. Oops.
What’s the Problem?
It takes too long to get to the monkeys-destroy-helicopters part of the movie. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if they’d billed this as a serious film that just happens to star a CGI monkey, but the trailers make it out to be all-smashy all the time, and it ain’t.
It feels like they’re dragging out the “Monkeys destroy all of humanity” story over a series of films rather than trying to get it done in one. But did it really need more than one? Shorten the first half of this film, add an hour to the end, and the monkeys rule the world. Simple. Stopping where they did feels like they realised they could milk this for another film.
Also, if we’re supposed to like the humans in this film, they failed. I was on Caesar’s side from right near the word go, but the humans I didn’t really warm to. They were nothing new in the character department.
Those are the basic problems. Now let’s get to the nit-picky ones.
Humans Too Stupid
Will teaches Caesar sign language so they can communicate. Awesome. At one point, though, Caesar asks where he comes from or why he is the way he is. Will promptly bundles Caesar into the car and drives him to Will’s work, where he explains that Will experimented on Caesar’s mother and made her really smart, and now Caesar is too.
Bearing in mind 1) that Caesar has the intelligence of a bright child, and 2) that he’s never met another chimp and therefore doesn’t know how smart he ‘should’ be (that is, he has nothing to compare his intelligence against), this seems an odd (and complex) thing to tell the little fella.
But it all comes back into it later, you see, once Caesar has his army (we’ll get to that in a minute). Having crossed San Francisco, he finds that particular building (that he’s seen once when he was driven there), breaks in, and rescues all the other smart monkeys.
So the scene was necessary later on, but it was clunky and awkward and totally brainless for Will to reveal it when he did (especially since his new girlfriend, who works at the city zoo, was in the car and could probably have him put up on charges).
Too Many Smart Apes
There can’t be “too many smart apes” in these films, in my opinions. All of the apes were more interesting characters than the humans, for a start. But… okay, there will be minor spoilers ahead, but I don’t think I can get away from that.
Caesar smartifies everyone at the quarantine place. This includes one orangutan and one gorilla. They then free the apes at the zoo, but they shouldn’t have been smart. They were all dumb apes. And hell, even if Caesar had infected them all right as they left their cage, that just adds more problems (see below).
After that, they liberate all the monkeys at Will’s work.
Somehow, in all this, they end up with about fifty smart apes: chimps, gorillas, and orangutans (despite the fact that there would have only been chimps at Will’s work).
Apes Too Smart
Again, I don’t want this to be a critique. I want the apes smart (especially with humans this dumb) but they keep referring to Caesar as being a really bright kid (he’s only 5 years old in reality). So how does Caesar know advanced military tactics that they can convey via hand signals to apes that don’t know sign language?
Yes, I’m aware that Caesar taught the quarantine-monkeys one afternoon. Did they then teach the dumb ones from the zoo?
How does he know how best to kill two dozen armed marines on a bridge in the fog? It’s a stretch just a bit too far. If they’d approached, been fired at, retreated, tried something different? Fine. But they stopped in the fog and formed their plan before they even saw that there were enemies there. Up until that point they’d been running among the cars; for no reason they stopped and deployed two squadrons to take out an enemy they shouldn’t have known was there using tactics they (probably) couldn’t have learned.
Drug Worked Too Quickly
The original drug works slowly, gradually increasing brain function and intelligence. And by “gradually” I think they mean over weeks at the least.
Caesar deploys the drug in the quarantine lab one evening and the monkeys are in full-on intelligent revolt less than 24 hours later. Basically, it felt like they were ignoring the rules they’d established for this drug because the story demanded it.
What’s the Solution?
Shorten the first hour by half. Give Will a character. Obey the rules you have established for the drug you invented, whatever those rules are.
And give us more of monkeys smashing everything.
If you like seeing gorillas attack helicopters, or enjoy Andy Serkis excelling at being CGI yet again, hell yeah.
Just be aware that you won’t see the Statue of Liberty tumbling into the ocean during this film. It’s more of a character study; just of a CGI chimp who doesn’t fit in, goes through oppression, and helps his fellows find a way out of it so they can live their lives free. It’s a liberation film, not a “let’s kill humans” film.
It’s the first part of a trilogy, most likely. If you view it as such, it’s decent set-up.